A two-act adventure show with music, the play reads like a hodgepodge of schemes and ideas welded onto a strange tale of wandering. It focuses on Kosmo, a hard rocker, and his drug-dealing sidekick, Yahoodi, as they search for gold while learning their place in the world.  The journey takes them above the laws of time and space as they meet up with historic and mythic figures, including Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Janis Joplin, Jesse James, Captain Kidd and Paul Bunyon.

Performance History

First production was staged at Theatre Genesis at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, New York on March 4, 1971. Directed by Robert Glaudini. Cast included O-lan Shepard.

1971 NYC performance

Mel Gussow, NY Times (3/7/71):
Sam Shepard is fascinated by America's folk heroes, which for him means not merely historicaland legendary figures, but also movie and pop stars. These larger-than-life people and their illusions - almost everyone wants to be someone else - populate the stage in his free-wheeling new play, "Mad Dog Blues", now running at Theater Genesis.

The heroes of the play are a former famous pop star, Kosmo (looking for his lost roots) and his sidekick, a city boy named Yahoodi (in need of a fix). Kosmo is apparently a modern prototype of the movie cowboy. Yahoodi is not so apparently a modern prototype of the movie gangster, although he acts shifty and dreams about being Bogey. It is possible that Mr. Shepard did not mean the two to represent anything except themselves, but the emanations they give off of their classic predecessors add an extra level.

The best thing, however, when seeing Mr. Shepard, is not to look for explications, explanations, or levels, but to relax and let yourself be carried away. "Mad Dog Blues" is much more obviously an entertainment than is some of the author's previous work. Actually, it is comething of a Shepard and Family vaudeville.

Both Kosmo and Yahoodi have fantasies, the first of Mae West, the second of Marlene Dietrich, and the two are quickly conjured up in the flesh - and gently satired. Mae, as played in pink boa by O-lan, also known as Mrs. Shepard, is pocket-size and adorable. As a dividend, she just happens "to sing the blues like Janis Joplin" and so O-lan plays Mae playing Janis singing blues written by O-lan. This Pirandellian notion finds its own level - very pleasurable...

Half of the songs are written by the author, who is the most visible member of a three-piece country combo. In the role of electric guitarist, tambourinist and sound-effects man, Mr. Shepard, aka Slim Shadow, seems to enjoy the show as much as the audience does.

But to return to the plot, which Mr. Shepard does occasionally - it follows a hunt for Captain Kidd's treasure (to everyone's surprise, a collection of bottlecaps) led by Kidd, Marlene and Yahoodi, and trailed by a rival team composed of Mae, Kosmo and a cowpoke named Waco Texas who has a fantasy life of his own - he wants to be Jimmie Rogers, "the old Jimmie Rogers". As Waco explains, "He lives in me and that's how I figure out I'm him," which may be a key to the show. In other words, you are who you think you are.

In spite of its epic canvas,"Mad Dog Blues" is, refreshingly, non-insistent and unpretentious....  Like talking blues, Mr. Shepard's show rambles and seems to extemporize and improvise. It has its own rhythm, which overrides everything, even the occasional slowness and unwieldiness. "Mad Dog Blues" is written, directed and performed in a deceptively casual but confident style, with a deep affection for America's landscape and mythology.

December 1987 performance - UC Irvine

Mark Chalon Smith, LA Times (12/4/87):
"Mad Dog Blues" at UC Irvine is one of Sam Shepard's early works, and it shows. This sometimes intriguing, but mostly confounding, comic fantasy bears the unmistakable mark of a young playwright still exploring his craft and yet to reach full stride.

A product of the mid-60s, "Blues" is clearly a reflection on the counterculture era and Shepard's own stumbling, jokey efforts to describe his place in it. The author as devout hard-rock fan and sardonic chronicler of the even harder drug culture emerge throughout this whimsical play. In that context, it can be an interesting document of the period and the man.

But what also surfaces are sweeping problems with technique and theme. "Blues," like much of Shepard's work during this formative time, is beset by self-conscious ramblings that often take it right off the map. Furthermore, this rock 'n' roll vision presages some of the troubles that occasionally afflict his later work.

The rap on Shepard's more accomplished plays--that they can veer toward pointless sensationalism--fits "Blues" like a snug, tie-dyed headband. The plot about the space- and time-leaping wanderings of a neurotic Elvis clone and his paranoid drug-dealing sidekick is so broad as to be almost unapproachable. The characters are so vivid as to be nearly blinding, the ideas so rarefied and vague as to be almost out of touch.

The good news, as usual, is that Shepard never fails to surprise and, even if clumsily done, "Blues" always jabs at square attitudes with straightforward shots. "Blues" is often startling and, if you open your eyes real wide and don't dwell on any one element too long, it can be a kick.

April 1988 Performance at Chicago's Theatre of the Reconstruction

Tom Valeo, Chicago Reader (4/7/88):
Sam Shepard's plays, especially the earlier ones, can be terribly self-indulgent and tedious. Without brilliant performances, they begin to look like the scribblings of a pretentious adolescent. "Mad Dog Blues", which premiered in 1971 when Shepard was 28, is particularly susceptible to this problem.

The play is a phantasmagoria of images drawn from popular culture. The characters include Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Captain Kidd, Jesse James, and Paul Bunyan. The plot, which borrows elements from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "Treasure Island", and "Destry Rides Again", follows two aimless young men as they pick up women, search for gold, fight, die, come back to life, and reconcile. Time and distance matter very little, and the plot is totally capricious. This isn't a play so much as a pastiche of assorted cultural icons, which would be incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with American movies, magazines, and music. Using these icons, Shepard manages once again to deal with his favorite themes - rootlessness, greed, alienation - while simultaneously pointing out that our view of the world is shaped to an alarming degree by pop mythology.

August 2000 Performance at One Theatre Company, Austin, TX

Skipper Chong Warson, Austin Chronicle (8/18/00):
Sam Shepard once said, "I don't want to be a playwright, I want to be a rock & roll star," and boy oh boy, ONE Theatre Company's production of his 1972 play Mad Dog Blues proves his intent. It has drugs and rock & roll in spades...

Like [Kerouac's] "On the Road", "Mad Dog Blues" is about two guys taking a trip, and no matter how you dress it up, whether it's of the euphoric persuasion or the globe-trottin' variety, a trip is a trip is a trip. And with any trip, you should love the company you're with. Both Shepard and Kerouac use stream of consciousness - hit and miss, at best - filling their respective worlds with misty extrapolations, unable to fill in the chinks of their flawed travel chronicle seeking a magnificent dream. Toward the end of "Mad Dog Blues", the question is posed, "What about the mind? Dreams?" But even the most glorious dream can be forgotten while you brush your teeth.