1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

Sandee Saunders: Headless in Hatch (1972)

LIKE MANY YOUNG ARTISTS whose lives are cut tragically short, country-pop singer Sandee Saunders achieved her greatest fame after death. But not for the usual reasons.

Sandee Saunders' 1972 Clubbo Records release, Reflections.

Soon after her fatal 1972 car crash, the first rumors appeared: Sandee might be dead, but she was far from gone. Along the lonely stretch of New Mexico highway where she lost her life, late-night drivers were startled by manifestations of Sandee’s disembodied head, often accompanied by the unearthly strains of her greatest hit, “Mornin’ Kind of Feelin’.”

Are these sightings real, or the product of an overactive Chamber of Commerce? And if they are real, is there meaning behind the manifestations? 

HORROR! True and terrifying stories of Sandee encounters at!


“Mornin’ Kind of Feelin'”

“Mornin’ Kind of Feelin'” lyrics and credits


Musicians who die young hold a special place in our hearts. But what touches us most: their actual accomplishments, or the music they didn’t live to create? Or is it just morbid voyeurism that makes us slow down and stare at the remains of their truncated careers?

Sande Saunders press photo (Clubbo Records)

Whatever the reason, we’re often reluctant to lay these lost talents to rest. And for some — like country singer Sandee Saunders, who died in the summer of 1972 — eternal peace isn’t even an option.

Sandee Saunders was born March 19, 1940 in the tiny town of Hatch, New Mexico, the “green chile capital of the world.” When she was just six weeks old, her teenaged parents were killed by one of New Mexico’s notorious drunk drivers while returning home from the Doña Ana County Courthouse, where they’d gone to get their marriage license. Sandee was raised by her maternal grandparents, Henry and Maria Saunders, who ran a small service station and café alongside US Highway 185.

Sandee was a bright, active child, always eager to help her grandmother bus dishes and refill coffee cups for the long-distance drivers who stopped at the café. One occasional visitor was a small-time musician and former movie extra named Pete Pickford, whose biggest claim to fame was being punched in the jaw by Tex Ritter during the filming of Sing, Cowboy, Sing. Pickford wrote a special song in honor of young Sandee’s cheery disposition, entitled “Sandee Side Up,” and showed her how to play it on her grandfather’s acoustic guitar.

Sandee’s grandparents encouraged her musical talent. But hard times were in store for the Saunders business. Interstate 25 was completed on the other side of the Rio Grande, eliminating the direct route through Hatch. The service station struggled on, but the café was doomed: The competing Philomena’s Inn was closer to the I-25 off-ramp, had a liquor license, and offered live music on weekend nights.

When Henry suffered a minor stroke in April 1958, Sandee, then a high-school senior, went to work as a waitress at Philomena’s to help support the family. Her grandparents protested — not because Philomena Gallegos was the Saunders’ business archrival, but because of the restaurant’s rowdy weekend bar scene.

Their fears were realized when Sandee became friendly with Philomena’s second cousin, Mike Gallegos. Mike was a troublemaker: a wild 21-year-old who had been banished to Hatch as punishment for joyriding the family tractor into an arroyo. By the end of August, Sandee was visibly pregnant. Midway through the subsequent wedding preparations, Mike hitched a ride out of Hatch and never came back.

Anita Saunders, a Down Syndrome baby, was born on Sandee’s 19th birthday. Sandee was deeply depressed and barely able to care for herself, let alone an infant with special needs. But when grandfather Henry suffered another stroke, Sandee pulled herself together. Her tireless grandmother Maria looked after the baby and Henry while Sandee returned to work at Philomena’s, where she waited tables for the next decade.

One evening in May 1969, Sandee saw a familiar face. Pete Pickford now managed several popular regional country & western artists, including aging cowboy sweetheart Birdie McBride, whose act included singing, dancing, lasso work, and fancy whistling. In fact, Pete was on his way to Santa Fe to inform Birdie that he would no longer be representing her. He and Birdie had once been close (okay, engaged), but times were changing, and the old vaudeville-tinged acts were no longer in demand. What people wanted now was young, fresh, natural talent. When Sandee reminded Pete of the song “Sandee Side Up” and sang a few bars to him, he knew he’d found his next act.

Clubbo Records recording artist Sandee Saunders

Pete began booking Sandee into small venues throughout New Mexico — the Hitchin’ Post Bar in Deming, the Branding Iron in Tucumcari, El Toro Loco in Española, and the Fireside Lounge in Grants. By the following year, Sandee, now backed by her own band, was playing classier tourist venues like La Posada in Albuquerque, La Fonda in Santa Fe, and the Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn. Like a good tequila sunrise, her easygoing combination of soft rock and country flavors helped patrons forget their troubles.

But Sandee was growing restless. She was now writing much of her own material, and people seemed to like it. If she recorded some of her songs, she reasoned, she might be able to expand her audience without spending every night on the road, away from her young daughter and fragile grandparents. So in September 1971, she presented Pete Pickford with an ultimatum: Get her a record deal or get a different artist.

Pete turned to the one person he knew with record-industry contacts — old flame Birdie McBride, whose nephew worked for a record company in Los Angeles. After much cajoling and flattery, Pete was able to pry out a phone number for Charles O’Brien at Clubbo Records.

Charles “Chucko” O’Brien began working for Clubbo in 1963, when label head Bo Bogerman hired him to engineer sessions for some of the label’s “Swiss Invasion” artists. O’Brien continued to freelance with Clubbo until the late 1960s, when the notoriously thrifty Bogerman finally hired him as the label’s first full-time recording engineer.

Now 34, Chucko was a talented audio professional with an exceptional ear. At his aunt’s suggestion, Chucko went to see Sandee Saunders perform at the Ore House, a popular Santa Fe restaurant and watering hole. He was bowled over by the singer’s sparkling green eyes, curly red hair, and saucy smile. The smitten engineer’s recommendation to Bogerman: Sign Sandee immediately.

Sandee Saunders press photo (Clubbo Records)

Recording sessions for Sandee’s album Reflections commenced in March 1972 at Clubbo’s Hollywood studios. For Sandee, who had never ventured farther west than Phoenix, Los Angeles was a strange and exciting place. Chucko showed her the Pacific Ocean, the homes of the stars, and other popular tourist spots. And to her surprise, Sandee found herself growing fond of the clumsy but well-intentioned engineer.

Two weeks into the recording, Chucko blurted out a marriage proposal to a startled Sandee during an early-morning walk alongside the La Brea Tar Pits. She said she’d think about it. The next morning, she came into the studio with a brand-new song for the record: “Mornin’ Kind of Feelin’,” her answer for Chucko.

Perhaps it was the song’s sincerity, or perhaps Sandee was simply in the right place at the right time with her smooth pop-country sound. Either way, “Mornin’ Kind of Feelin’” shot up both the country and pop charts when Reflections was released that June.

Back in New Mexico, Pete Pickford seethed with jealousy when he heard of Sandee’s engagement. He was, he now realized, in love with her. He told his star artist that getting married and relocating to LA, thus abandoning her I-25 fan base, would cripple her career. But Sandee was unswayed. Between Southwest tour dates she began making arrangements to move to Tarzana, CA, where Chucko had his eye on a brand-new ranch-style house with four bedrooms — big enough for Anita, grandmother Maria, and the ailing Henry as well as the newlyweds.

But Sandee never saw her dream house. In the early morning of August 1, 1972, as she drove back to Hatch after a performance in Santa Fe, her 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 veered off a bridge south of Caballo Lake State Park. The car plunged into the Rio Grande, decapitating Sandee and flinging her body onto the opposite riverbank. Her head was never found.

We’ll never know for sure what prompted the crash, but authorities speculated that Sandee had simply fallen asleep at the wheel. Chucko, still in LA, was devastated. Pete blamed himself: He and Sandee had argued immediately before she left. He took to driving the same stretch of I-25 late at night, back and forth from Hatch to Truth or Consequences, NM. One morning just before dawn, he claims, he saw Sandee standing by the side of the road, signaling to him to slow down. He stepped on the brakes and looked into the rear view mirror, but the apparition was gone. Another night, he swears, Sandee’s song “Mornin’ Kind of Feelin’” came on the car radio just as his tires touched the bridge she’d driven off.

These terrifying experiences ended Pete’s nocturnal drives. Now he devoted himself to Sandee’s memory in another way: He purchased Henry Saunders’ old service station in Hatch and established a small museum of Sandee memorabilia, including some of her favorite stage outfits, her guitar, and even pieces of the actual death car outside. He remained in Hatch until his own death in 1997, sharing stories of Sandee manifestations with everyone who stopped by the station.

Part of Sandee’s death car, now parked in Hatch, NM

Perhaps due to Pete’s devotion, Sandee’s ghost has enjoyed an increasingly active career. Special significance has been placed on her detached head, reportedly seen in dozens of rear view mirrors along the entire length of I-25. She’s alternately regarded as a harbinger of disaster or a benevolent force given to frightening sleepy drivers awake and saving them from her sad fate.

The Sandee story was recently featured on the hit TV show Psychic Mysteries, and the Institute for Paranormal Observation’s monthly newsletter, Glimpses, devoted its entire August 2002 issue to Sandee-related phenomena. On websites such as, hundreds of believers share tales of their Sandee encounters.

The Hatch Chamber of Commerce encourages the Sandee cult. Their annual Sandee Saunders Day, traditionally held the first Sunday of August, includes a barbecue, live music, and an arts-and-crafts competition for “best head.” According to the New Mexico Department of Tourism, it’s the state’s second-most popular paranormal-themed event after Roswell’s UFO Festival.