1990s Country Hitmaker Doug Supernaw Dies

Doug Supernaw. Photo: Courtesy Robert K. Oermann

Texas singer-songwriter Doug Supernaw, who topped the country charts in 1993-96, died Nov. 13, following a battle with cancer.

He is best known for “Reno” (1993), “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” (1993) and “Not Enough Hours in the Night” (1996). Supernaw, who was 60 when he passed, was nominated as the ACM’s New Male Artist of the Year and earned a Gold record for his Red and Rio Grande album in 1994.

Noted as a top songwriter as well as a good-time showman, Supernaw’s career was derailed by mental illness and substance abuse. But during the last few years of his life he fought to reclaim it.

He was born in 1960 and raised in middle-class circumstances in suburban Houston. He excelled as an athlete, particularly in baseball and golf. Supernaw earned a golf scholarship to the University of St. Thomas in 1978. He began writing songs and dropped out of school in 1979 to become the lead singer for the Carolina beach-party band The Occasions. Two years later, he returned to school, but flunked out of Texas Tech.

He went to work in the oil fields and continued to write songs. In 1986, he became the promoter and booker for the Arena Theater, a major venue in suburban Houston.

He took his songs to Nashville in 1987 and became a staff writer for a publisher on Music Row. But Supernaw yearned to record and to entertain. Four years later, he returned to the Lone Star State and formed his band Texas Steel. The honky-tonk group soon rose high on the lucrative East Texas music circuit.

At the urging of talent scout R.C. Bannon, RCA Records signed him and placed him on its BNA imprint. Supernaw debuted on the country charts with “Honky Tonkin’ Fool” in early 1993, but the single failed to crack the top-40. He co-wrote its follow-up, “Reno,” which hit No. 4. His third single was the divorced-fathers anthem “I Don’t Call Him Daddy,” which soared to No. 1 as 1993 drew to a close.

Doug Supernaw. Photo: Courtesy Robert K. Oermann

All three tunes appeared on Red and Rio Grande, which was certified as a Gold record in the summer of 1994. The Academy of Country Music nominated “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” as 1994’s Video of the Year and Song of the Year during the same year that Supernaw competed as the organization’s Best New Male Artist. He was also nominated for awards by TNN/Music City News, MusicRow and Billboard.

He appeared on the soundtrack of the movie comedy The Beverly Hillbillies singing the Buck Owens classic “Together Again.” During this period, he also became noted for his charity work on behalf of sick children, the handicapped, scholarship students and abused women.

His reputation as an entertainer was polished by such stunts as flying to the stage from the top of the Houston Astrodome on a guy wire and diving face-first into a mud pit at a Canadian festival without missing a note. Affectionately known as “Supe,” his witty antics at rollicking nightclub appearances drew enthusiastic crowds. His unpredictable candor made him a media favorite, as well.

In the mid-1990s, Supernaw temporarily faltered on the charts. He co-wrote 1994’s “Red and Rio Grande,” which hit No. 23. But his versions of Mickey Cates’ “State Fair” and Steve Goodman’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” (co-written by an uncredited John Prine) were less successful. Supernaw rebounded with Dennis Linde’s “What’ll You Do About Me” in 1995 when that single rose to No. 16.

Those last three singles appeared on his second album, Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Mind, as did six Supernaw originals and his version of Jimmy Buffett’s “He Went to Paris.” When that album failed to sell, BNA dropped him from its roster.

Supernaw broke his neck while surfing. He survived a head-on car accident and a case of food poisoning. He and his band—renamed The Possum Eatin’ Cowboys—had all of their equipment stolen, twice. He went through a divorce from his first wife, Trudy.

Supernaw’s BNA producer Richard Landis stayed with him. The team resurfaced on the Warner Bros. label Giant Records with You Still Got Me in late 1995. That collection’s “Not Enough Hours in the Night” became a smash hit when it went to No. 3.

In 1996, “She Never Looks Back” and Supernaw’s self-penned “You Still Got Me” stalled outside the top-40. His label began to decline in influence and eventually closed.

Supernaw’s last appearance on the country hit parade was a 1996 collaboration with The Beach Boys on the humorous novelty “Long Tall Texan.” His final big-label Nashville CD was the BNA compilation Encore Collection in 1997.

Throughout his hit-making years, he had remained a steadfast Texas artist. He co-wrote songs with his band and prided himself on being a country traditionalist. By resisting the temptations of Nashville, Supernaw saw himself as a country-music rebel.

The independent label Tack Records issued a Doug Supernaw album sadly but aptly titled Fadin’ Renegade in 1999. The comeback attempt failed.

His career and life began to unravel. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Doug Supernaw was charged with drunk driving, assaulting a police officer, failure to make child-support payments, marijuana possession, jumping bail, public intoxication, contempt of court and disorderly conduct. The band quit in 1998. In 2004, second wife Debbie filed for divorce.

As recounted by journalist John Nova Lomax in The Houston Press, Supernaw’s pronouncements became increasingly erratic. He claimed he was a Native American, was implanted with a chip in his head, was swindled out of racehorses and that there was an international conspiracy to silence him because he was the illegitimate son of Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy. On one occasion he was found naked, rambling that his wife had been decapitated and unable to recall his own name.

He told Lomax that he had been held hostage in a “mentally retarded home for terrorists” in Paris, France. He said he had been labeled “an alchaholik” and had a “bi-polar bear” as well as “sickle cell amnesia.” A judge stated that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial and ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

By 2007, Supernaw was cleared of most of the charges against him. During the next decade, his behavior stabilized, and he resumed touring. He acquired a new management team. He also returned to recording in Nashville.

In 2016, Doug Supernaw was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. In April, 2017, he released an album containing new recordings of his hits, plus two new songs, including his single “The Company I Keep.” That June, he returned to the CMA Music Festival stage in Nashville. In the fall, Dierks Bentley invited him to be part of an all-star Ralph Stanley Tribute Concert at the Opry House. In November 2018, Doug Supernaw married Cissy Allen live on Facebook from Las Vegas.

In January 2019, he sought treatment for a persistent cough. His initial diagnosis was pneumonia, but subsequent tests revealed Stage IV cancer in his lungs and bladder. A bladder tumor was removed in March 2019

On Sunday, Oct. 18, Cissy Supernaw posted on Facebook that her husband had been placed in home hospice care and that the cancer had spread to his brain and spine.

He is survived by his third wife, children, and grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.


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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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