The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove Of Sir Douglas

The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove Of Sir Douglas

by Tom Bomb for Country Music News International

Sir Douglas. Sir Doug. Doug Sahm. If there were ever a textbook example of the term “polyphasic” he would fit it to a tee. But that’s what made him so special. Doug Sahm was one of a kind. He was equally at home in almost every roots-based genre. From blues to country to rock n’ roll to Western Swing to Cajun to polkas there were few that were as superbly competent. And he was as connected to Hank Williams as he was to Jerry Garcia.

Doug Sahm was born in San Antonio, Texas on November 6, 1941. The city was an influential location when it came to the formation of Texas music due to its culturally diverse population and would later influence a very eclectic catalog to say the least. What we now know as “Tex-Mex” music was formed out of the danceable Klezmer sounds played by Polish immigrants, the Conjunto and Norteño tones by Mexican immigrants, and the energetic Polka beats by German immigrants. Add a “Cajun two-step” to that mix along with local blues clubs and you get what many could make the case to be a progenitor of what was about to become “Rock N’ Roll” at the time. And Doug was surrounded by it.

Doug Sahm was a child prodigy and by the age of five he soon became a featured performer on the Louisiana Hayride radio program appearing with stars such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, and Hank Thompson. He would soon make his recording debut in 1955 on the Sarg imprint under the name “Little Doug Sahm” with a single titled “A Real American Joe”. In his teenage years Doug entered what is widely described as his “Elvis phase”. He would record a succession of singles with a number of backing-groups including The Pharoahs, The Dell-Kings, and The Mar-Kays. Singles included songs such as “Crazy Daisy”, “Just A Moment”, “Sapphire” and “Lucky Me”. After several years however Doug’s big break came when producer Huey P. Meaux finally gave him a shot. Huey had previous success with Barbara Lynn and Dale And Grace but the hits dried up when Beatlemania hit the states. After a night of locking himself in a hotel room listening to Beatles records Huey contacted Doug. He instructed Doug to grow his hair long, form a band, and write a song with a “Cajun two step” beat. The result? Sahm would recruit Augie Meyers on keyboards, Frank Morin on saxophone, Harvey Kagen on bass, and Johnny Perez on drums to form “The Sir Douglas Quintet” who would go on to record the hit song “She’s A Body Mover”…in which the title would then be adapted to “She’s About A Mover” for the censors. It was then followed up with the hit song “The Rains Came”. During a tour stop in Corpus Christi, Texas, in December 1965, Sahm and Morin were arrested for possession of marijuana upon their arrival at Corpus Christi International Airport. Their bond was set at $1,500. Sahm wound getting the money from his family in San Antonio. The band pleaded guilty to the charge of “receiving and concealing marijuana without paying the required transfer tax”. They were sentenced to probation with supervision for five years in March 1966. Meyers was forbidden from leaving Texas during the period of his probation. Doug’s parole officer however eventually allowed him to leave Texas in which he then decided to move to California with his wife and children.

Salinas, California was his next destination. Doug would become a fixture in the up and coming hippie scene in San Francisco. He gathered all of the remaining members of the Sir Douglas Quintet. The band would perform on bills with acts such as the Grateful Dead to Big Brother And Holding Company. The Sir Douglas Quintet would break new ground once again and record another hit song titled “Mendocino” which is widely considered to be a forerunner to the country-rock sound that industry professionals soon after would refer to as “alternative Nashville” which included acts such as the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Jackson Browne, and many others. The “alternative Nashville” stigma would wind up affecting him from a marketing standpoint when he returned to Texas soon after.

Doug would relocate to Austin, Texas in the 1970’s and sign with Atlantic Records after being approached by Jerry Wexler to join their newly created progressive country division. He would go on to record the critically acclaimed album titled “Doug Sahm And Band” in New York City. Guest appearances featured Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David “Fathead” Newman, Flaco Jiménez, David Bromberg, and Kenny Kosek. It was produced by Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, and Doug Sahm himself. Highlights from this album include a cover of the Charley Pride tune “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone”, “It’s Gonna Be Easy”, a cover of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love”, and T-Bone Walker’s “Papa Ain’t Salty”. The album would sell poorly despite critical acclaim. Throughout the 1970’s he would rarely perform outside of the Austin club scene as his record sales continued to decline.

In the 1980’s Doug would reform the Sir Douglas Quintet again after the group had gained attention again from the success of the British new wave genre and the revival of the use of keyboards in music. The Sir Douglas Quintet would then sign a record deal with Sonet Records based out of Sweden in 1983. They would release Midnight Sun that same year. It was a success selling 50,000 copies in Sweden, and another 50,000 copies in the rest of Scandinavia. The album’s single “Meet Me in Stockholm” became a hit song throughout the region. The Sir Douglas Quintet would tour Scandinavia as well as the Netherlands. In 1985, Sahm would move to Canada after he visited friends in Vancouver, but he would return to Austin annually to take part in the very young but soon to be influential South By Southwest festival. In another major highlight of his career he would team up with Amos Garrett and Gene Taylor to record The Return of the Formerly Brothers. The release would earn them the Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album in 1989.

In 1989, Doug formed the Tex-Mex supergroup known as the Texas Tornados reuniting him with Augie Meyers, his close friend Freddy Fender, and legendary accordionist Flaco Jiménez. The group’s songs featured a predominantly Tex-Mex sound which included a mixture of rock n’ roll, country music, conjunto, and blues. After the seeing the success of The Traveling Wilburys, Warner Brothers would sign the band to a recording contract, and in 1991 they would release the highly acclaimed album titled Texas Tornados. The album charted at number five on Billboard’s Top Country Albums as a result of strong regional sales in markets throughout Texas as well as the music video for their debut single “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of” receiving a healthy amount of airplay on CMT and TNN at the time. The album would go on to earn the Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance. The band appeared alongside with Willie Nelson at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as well as many other prominent events such as the America’s Reunion on the Mall event, as well as in other venues around Washington, D.C. during their stay.

By the end of 1999, tragedy would strike. Doug went on a trip to visit a friend in Taos, New Mexico. Throughout the trip he kept having to pull over to vomit and as a result of his deteroriating condition would remain in constant communication with his son Shawn as well as his girlfriend Debora Hanson. On November 18, 1999, Doug Sahm was found dead in his hotel room while staying in Taos, New Mexico. He passed away as a result of a heart attack resulting from arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The Austin Music Network would air a three-hour tribute while KUTX 98.9 dedicated an episode of one of its shows to his music. On November 23, 1999, Doug’s funeral took place at the Sunset Memorial Home in San Antonio. An estimated one thousand mourners were in attendance.

His legacy and influence continue to live on. From his long hair and sideburns, to his sunglasses, to his penchant for western attire including cowboy hats and boots. To the impulsive, restless, and energetic personality who talked in what was essentially rapid-fire hippie jargon that he embodied. He will always represent the “Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove”.

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