July 15, 2011
There is no other musician as synonymous with the Lone Star state as the late Doug Sham, the last genuine Texas groover. And man, they just don't make 'em like Doug anymore --- as American as baseball and apple pie and as Texan as ten gallon hats and the Alamo. Sahm was a flamboyant personality and powerful musical force to be reckoned with and when we lost him, we also lost a big chunk of true blue American music.
Born and raised in the tri-cultural society of San Antonio, Sahm's hometown was the only major Texas city during the 1940's and 50's where whites were the minority. This was to his benefit however, for growing up alongside his Chicano and African-American neighbors helped shape the soulful, all embracing, and musically diverse man that he grew to be.
In '64 at the bequest of record producer, Huey P. Meaux, Sahm assembled a band of musicians to mimic the new sounds that were washing up on American shores from the U.K. The group was comprised of the precocious Texan, several Chicanos, and one Native American Indian. Meaux however gave them the unlikely though decidedly British sounding name of 'The Sir Douglas Quintet.' In a promotional tactic ironically much like managers from the other side of the pond frequently dreamed up, Meaux attempted to fool the record buying public into thinking that the group rubbed shoulders with the Beatles and the Stones as part of that fabled music invasion. Publicity photos of the period found the band members hidden in dark shadows in order to conceal their true ethnic and cultural identities. But after their first single, 'She's About A Mover' became a bona fide hit, their cover was forever blown. Besides, how could anyone have truly believed that this Texas hybrid music could have came from the minds and experiences of pasty Brits? The song after all was basically a Cajun Two-Step with a Farfisa organ substituting for an accordion, and all played with the ragged, unrefined sound of a suburban teenage garage band.
After an arrest in 1966 for possession of marijuana, Sahm fled his home state, following the flow of other young Texans to San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district. It was there in this druggy new mecca for free thinking youth that Doug Sahm unquestionably found his groove. Forming a new band, 'The Sir Douglas Quintet + 2,' he began to unveil the first of his several (and authentic) musical incarnations, and to understand these persona's (which merely showcased the many sides of his musical personality) is key to understanding the more mysterious whole of the man. Sahm had absorbed much along the road to California, and now he distilled all the music that had inspired him along the way --- from Western Swing to Lightnin' Hopkins, Tex-Mex to Cajun Polkas, Hank Ballard to Rock and Roll, plus everything in between --- and in doing so he created something that was singularly his own, a unique voice and style that can only be described as Doug Sahm. In the naively optimistic blush of the Haight Ashbury's pre-Summer of Love days when good vibes really did prevail, Sahm reinvented himself as the quintessential Psychedelic Cowboy and became a regular at early venues like the Avalon Ballroom working primarily with Bay Area musicians who collectively called themselves The Sir Douglas Quartet + 2. Later after recruiting his former band mates from San Antonio, Sahm reassembled the original version of the quintet who went on to record a string of wonderful LP's for the Mercury label, further showcasing his varied influences. In addition to the Psychedelic Cowboy, we met Doug the Soul Shouter, Doug the smooth Rhythm and Blues balladeer, and Doug the Cajun Fiddler. There was also T-Bone Doug the heavy Bluesman, Doug Saldaña the Norteño Conjunto and honorary Chicano. Also in the mix we heard from Doug the Jazz Cat, and finally Wayne Douglas the Country Crooner. All of Sahm's experiences of a lifetime found their way into his new music, resulting in wonderful records that sound nothing like those that are made today. They were absolutely all over the map stylistically, and lacked anything that resembled polish or sheen. No post production tweaking for this 'keep it real' musician. Instead we heard frayed guitars, a drummer sometimes slipping off the beat, occasional harmonies that never quite hit the note, bass strings slightly out of tune, and horn players flubbing notes here and there. In other words, honest to goodness real music made by real people who may not have been the most technically proficient musicians, but sure as hell played with a lot of heart and soul.
But music was not the only quality that made Sahm both uncommon and unforgettable, for he was also the consummate hipster, optimist and raconteur. Capable of speaking a mile a minute, Sahm was a virtual Texas tornado, spitting out tales, information, phone numbers, statistics, random thoughts and recollections all seemingly without pausing for breath. The great Freddie Fender reportedly once told him, "Doug, if you can't stop talking, can you at least slow it down?" He could be overwhelming at times, but he was always entertaining. Then to add even more color to the picture, Sahm's stream of conscious delivery was peppered with all manner of hipster's lingo from the 1960's. Though you might think this would be annoying, the result was actually endearing, due to his warmth, easy smile, and all around 'good vibes.' Filled with unceasing wonder, unbridled enthusiasm, and brimming with genuine bonhomie, Sahm was not one to complain, deride, or dwell on the negative. Rather, he described most people and places in his life as either "beautiful" or "groovy." In fact, each town became more "beautiful" than the last, whether it be San Antonio, Amarillo, Sante Fe or Albuquerque, San Bernadino, Mendocino, or the most unlikely, Prunedale, CA which he briefly called home. That was just the way he was, always finding the silver lining. And because of that colorful personality, boundless energy, and ability to make friends wherever he went, Sahm's conversations were able to include oddities that most others might find impossible, like the use of two improbable phrases such as 'good karma' and 'kick ass' in the same sentence and somehow making it work. Sahm might also be the only man who could ever get away with calling the fabled City by the Bay, 'Frisco.' Somehow coming out of his mouth, it just sounded natural, even downright acceptable.
Doug eventually returned to his hometown of San Antonio, where he continued to create his unique brand of Americana. After dissolving The Sir Douglas Quintet, Sahm was given the opportunity to make an all star recording with the many friends and musical admirers that he'd made through the years. Those friends who come out to participate included, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg, Charlie Owens, and David 'Fathead' Newman to name a few. He later formed another all star conglomeration of regional giants with Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, and Freddie Fender, appropriately called 'The Texas Tornados.' In his last years, he worked out with 'The Last Real Texas Blues Band,' a roadhouse combo that played like a dream jukebox of Blues and R&B favorites, unfortunately releasing only one recording before his passing.
Sahm sadly moved on to groover's paradise on November 18, 1999 after suffering a fatal heart attack while chasing his muse in New Mexico. He was truly one of a kind and his breed now seems almost an anomaly. The world today could use a few more people like Doug Sahm. His rich and personalized hybrid of Southern music may not have always produced brilliance, but it was certainly filled with a whole lot of heart and soul, and for my money, that's what counts the most.
The Last Genuine Texas Groover, Vol.1
1) My Dearest Darling
3) In The Dark
4) I Wanna' Be Your Mama Again
5) Too Little, Too Late
6) The Gypsy
7) When I Fall In Love
8) Catch A Man On The Rise
9) Daydreaming At Midnight
10) Blue Horizon
11) I Don't Want
12) Be Real
13) I'm Glad For Your Sake, But I'm Sorry For Mine
14) I Get Off
15) The Image Of Me
16) Twisted World
17) Wasted Days And Wasted Nights
18) Ain't That Lovin' You?
The Last Genuine Texas Groover, Vol.2
1) If You Really Want Me To, I'll Go
2) Hard Way To Go
3) You Never Get Too Big, And You Sure Don't Get Too Heavy,
That You Don't Have To Stop And Pay Some Dues Sometimes
4) At The Crossroads
5) Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day
6) It Didn't Even Bring Me Down
7) Tell Me The Truth
8) Box Car Hobo
9) Tennessee Blues
10) What About Tomorrow?
11) Song Of Everything
12) Texas Me
13) I Don't Want To Go Home
14) (Is Anyone Going To) San Antone
15) Yesterday Got In The Way
17) Nice Song
18) Stoned Faces Don't Lie
Source material for 'The Last Genuine Texas Groover, Vols.1&2' come from the following:
Doug Sahm & Band (1973)
The Last Real Texas Blues Band (1994)
Day Dreaming At Midnight (1994)
The Complete Mercury Masters 1968-1973 (2005)