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Doug Sahm Q&A
Doug Sahm Memorial
By Michael Devers
Nov 2007

LoneStarMusic.com was not quite a month old when we received the news of Doug Sahm's passing. The shock and grief throughout the Texas music community was both widespread and deep. In the years that have followed as the Texas music scene has expanded we have seen Sahm's influence and stature continue to grow. Not only with veteran Texas artists who've been around long enough to have caught a Sahm gig, but also artists who have just recently played their first gig. In 2002 the Bottle Rockets recorded a full disc of Doug's songs (the Songs of Sahm), Bruce Robison's most recent title track is a tribute to Sahm, and just a little over a month ago when asked during an interview for the ACL Fest what he thought of first when he thought of Texas music, newcomer Mario Matteoli (formerly of the Weary Boys) answered, “Doug Sahm needs a statue on Town Lake!”. And that's just the tip of a very large iceberg.

With today being Doug's sixty-sixth birthday we felt it was high time to feature Doug Sahm and create a new tradition. November 6 th will from here on out be celebrated as Doug Sahm Day here at LoneStarMusic.com. For those of you who may be wondering what the fuss is all about – ladies & gentlemen, Mr. Doug Sahm:

n 1950 listeners to the popular “Louisiana Hayride” radio show were introduced to a brand new featured steel-guitar player. His talent was recognizable, but the most significant thing about the Hayride's newest picker was the fact that he was a mere eight years old. Doug Sahm had already begun to make his mark on country music at an early age and before his untimely passing half a century later he would do more to reshape the Texas Music landscape than virtually any other single artist.

Born in San Antonio in late 1941, Sahm made his radio debut at the age of five and then appeared regularly on the Mutual Radio Network for two years prior to his “Louisiana Hayride” debut. As a result of the growing fame of Little Doug Sahm (as he was then known), he had an opportunity to sit in on steel, mandolin, and fiddle with such country greats of the day as Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Hank Thompson and, two weeks before the legendary country singer's death, Hank Williams.

Despite all of the early success on country and western radio, country songs were not the only sounds influencing the growth of Doug Sahm.

"Across a plowed field from my house was a place called Eastwood Country Club. On any given night you had T-Bone Walker, Junior Parker, The Bobby 'Blue' Bland Review, Hank Ballard and James Brown ... At about twelve or thirteen years old, my neighbor, Homer Callahan, a red-headed Irishman who loved to fight and listen to Howlin' Wolf, would bring over these great 45's with colorful labels like Excello, Atlantic, and Specialty, and dudes like Lonesome Sundown, Jimmy Reed, and Fats Domino. My mother, bless her soul, couldn't understand the profound effect these records had on her white son who was growing up fast in the predominantly black section of San Antone... Bear in mind, these weren't ghettos with crime filled streets, but for a white boy to be accepted at The Ebony Lounge was like being signed to the New York Yankees."

While still in his early teens, Doug was offered a regular spot on WSM's Grand Ol' Opry. Ultimately his mother insisted that he finish school and remain in San Antonio which led to Sahm fronting a number of bands during his high school years and recording for a succession of regional labels. Though he had many songs that were well known in the southwest, his first taste of international chart success would not come until several years after high school while posing as a British Invasion group.

Doug had been approaching Houston producer Huey P. Meaux for a number of years to record him. Meaux demurred until Beatlemania hit the US in 1964, leaving him and his successful stable of vanilla pop acts without a market. Meaux, eager to capitalize on the new craze, told Doug to form a group, grow their hair long and to write songs with a Cajun two-step beat (which Meaux believed to be the key to the British Invasion sound). Doug agreed and assembled a new band composed of members from his current band, the Markays, and members of the Goldens, a band led by Sahm's long-time friend Augie Meyers. Producer Meaux gave them the English sounding name, Sir Douglas Quintet, and sent them into the studio. They cut a series of singles and the first one out of the gate, “Sugar Bee”, flopped. Undaunted, Meaux released another single under a different label imprint and this time the song, “She's About A Mover” was a smash. One year after the Beatles had broken in America, Sahm and Meaux were riding high on the charts not only in the US, but worldwide. However the British Invasion charade would not last long with Sahm wearing his cowboy hat during an “American Bandstand” appearance and unable to hide his pronounced Texas accent during a television interview on “Hullaballoo”.

Sahm would disband and reform the Sir Douglas Quintet many times throughout his career, with the first incarnation of the group coming to a close following a marijuana bust at the Corpus Christi airport. The actual amount of marijuana was minute and Sahm felt he had been targeted due to his long hair and hippie image. In early '66 upon his release from jail, Sahm headed to San Francisco.

It didn't take long for Sahm to gather fellow Texas expatriates in San Francisco and reform the Quintet. They released an album (Honkey Blues ), but without the signature sound of Augie Meyers, the disc fell flat. Sahm then convinced Meyers to make the move west (along with original SDQ drummer Johnny Perez) and the revamped Sir Douglas Quintet released one of their most memorable records, Mendocino . The title track would become one of Sahm's biggest hits and a Texas music staple. But the album itself was a landmark recording, showcasing Sahm's unwillingness to be boxed into one genre and adding the psychedelic flavor he found in San Francisco to his already over-flowing collection of sounds and influences. Outside of the title track, other Sahm staples on the record included “Texas Me”, “At The Crossroads”, “I Just Want”, “Lawd I'm Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City” and a memorable re-recording of “She' About A Mover”. The record cemented the Sir Douglas Quintet's fame in the US and especially in Europe, influencing such diverse artists as Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, Bob Dylan and countless Texas artists.

After Mendocino's success, Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet would remain in San Francisco for a little more than two years before Doug became homesick for San Antone, returned to Texas and the group disbanded again.

Upon his return to the Lone Star state, Sahm would spend much of the next seventeen years recording mostly as a solo artist for a number of labels (almost always with Augie Meyers as part of the sessions as well) and touring throughout the US and extensively in Europe (once again with Augie usually close by). He kicked this period off in grand style with three records in a row, Doug Sahm and Band, Texas Tornado, and Groover's Paradise , that rank as some of the finest roots music ever recorded. In fact, if all Doug Sahm had ever released in his career were these three records, his place as one of the legends of Texas music would still have been assured.

During this period and for the remainder of his life when he wasn't recording or touring he was often following his other life-long passion, baseball. He would attend any kind of game he could get to (high school, minor leagues, college, or big league action) and he always carried a baseball card from his high school days in his wallet. Son Shawn Sahm remembered that any time they were on a road trip and his dad spotted the shine of a baseball field anywhere in the distance, there was bound to be a detour. As 1989 drew to a close, Sahm was about to take another detour that would once again thrust him into the national spotlight.

Just as Doug and Huey Meaux had witnessed the British Invasion in 1964 and said “we can do that”, Sahm and Arista Austin label head Cameron Randle saw the success that the Traveling Wilburys were having in 1989 and thought that a Tex-Mex super group could do well. Sahm reunited with old compatriot Augie Meyers and added Flaco Jimenez and Freddy Fender to form the Texas Tornados. The eponymous Texas Tornados was released in 1990 to critical praise and commercial success (reaching as high as #25 on the Billboard Country Chart). The group even scored a Grammy for the song “Soy de San Luis”.

During the last decade of his life, Sahm would be a part of many diverse projects. He would release three more studio albums and a live disc with the Texas Tornados. He reformed the Sir Douglas Quintet again in '94, this time featuring sons Shawn and Shandon. He also released three more solo records and along with Bill Bentley launched Tornado Records, which was to feature not only Doug Sahm recordings, but records from other Texas acts that Sahm was producing, including a new act that Doug had become enthusiastic about, Ed Burleson.

In November of 1999, Doug set out in his Cadillac to New Mexico for a road trip. He had called his son, Shandon, then the drummer for the Meat Puppets, from Santa Fe and complained of circulation problems in his arms and fingers. A few days later on November 18 th , a maid at the Kachina Inn in Taos, New Mexico found Sahm in his room. Paramedics were called and Doug Sahm was pronounced dead at 3:45pm. The exact cause was unknown at the time of death, but an autopsy later revealed that during his sleep Sahm had succumbed to a heart attack.

Doug Sahm's influence on Texas music cannot be overstated. His musical canvas was even broader than the Texas landscape that inspired so many of his tunes – country, rock, blues, cajun, Tex-Mex,

conjunto, western swing, and polka. Sahm was a multi-instrument genius, playing steel guitar while sitting on Hank Williams lap at the age of 11, playing guitar on Grateful Dead records, sitting in with many more artists on fiddle and mandolin and singing harmony vocals on classic Willie Nelson records. He may very well be the only artist to perform on the “Louisiana Hayride” in the 50's and on the corner of Haight & Ashbury during the summer of 1967. His songs continue to be recorded by major artists from every genre of music imaginable. Doug Sahm played music professionally for 53 of the 58 years he was with us and it's safe to say that his presence will be with us for much, much longer than that.

Currently there is no statue of Doug Sahm in Texas. One can only think it's because his contribution to music is too grand. His memorial must be being saved for something akin to a Mount Rushmore of Texas music. Or maybe it's because the best tribute to Doug Sahm lies in the generations of musicians that he has inspired and continues to inspire and to the people he has touched both personally and through his music. Or maybe it's because as Doug himself sang in “Beautiful Texas Sunshine”, the things that are important and are worth taking the time for can't be grasped in your hands.

“Well I know the time has come/

That I've got to be moving on/

But I'll always save, a beautiful day/

The beautiful Texas sunshine”

He would have been sixty-six today. We at LoneStarMusic will always save this day, November 6th , to remember Doug Sahm.

~ Michael Devers - LoneStarMusic ~




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