|Track||Album / Single|
|Just A Moment||Cobra CO-116|
|She's About A Mover||Tribe Records 45-8308|
|Song Of Everything||Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues|
|At The Crossroads||Mendocino|
|Nuevo Laredo||Together After Five|
|Ain't That Loving You||The Best Of Doug Sahm's Atlantic Sessions|
|Tennessee Blues||The Best Of Doug Sahm's Atlantic Sessions|
|Give Back The Keys|
To My Heart
|Texas Rock For Country Rollers|
|When I Fall In Love||The Last Real Texas Blues Band|
|T-Bone Shuffle||The Last Real Texas Blues Band|
|Dallas Alice||The Return Of Wayne Douglas|
|Love Minus Zero/No Limit||The Return Of Wayne Douglas|
Sir Douglas Quintet (l to r): Doug Sahm (guitar, vocals), Augie Meyers (organ), Johnny Perez (drums), Jack Barber (bass), Frank Morin (sax)
Texas Tornados (l to r): Flaco Jiménez , Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender
Contributor: Dave Stephens
Doug Sahm did everything. In popular music, that is. He produced records in genre after genre which one minute might be raw but enthusiastic, and the next, highly polished and with gorgeous arrangements. He didn’t really have hits apart from one big one so his audience isn’t huge, but it can be noisy: it ranges from ageing hippies still dreaming of those sessions in the Frisco Bay Area to rednecks banging on tables in bars to tex-mex polkas; from ladies in Stockholm fondly remembering the long haired Texan; to music buffs still trying to figure out what Doug was about. Selecting music and words to represent all this wasn’t easy. My first attempt went totally over the top. So, I reconsidered, rearranged and chipped away as much as I could but the improvement was marginal, though it might be OK for existing fans of Sir Doug who could do worse than skip the rest of this para and go straight to the next one. To everyone else I’d say, check out the playlist, sample some of the clips – I’ve included more than usual non-selected songs, and if/when you feel like diving into the text there are headings which might be helpful. There are selections from the beginning – Just A Moment and She’s About A Mover, to the end, Dallas Alice and Love Minus Zero/No Limit, both with their country hats on. There are tex-mex jumpers – Nuevo Laredo; blues – Ain’t That Loving You (Bobby Bland) and T-Bone Shuffle; a standard – When I Fall In Love; and some that are just downright good songs – Tennessee Blues (Bobby Charles), At The Crossroads, Song Of Everything and Give Back The Keys To My Heart. And at this stage I guess I should say, Enjoy (with the implied Cap) but I can’t stand it when people do that so I’ll leave the rest to you.
If there’s one artist who’s deserving of the label-spanning in depth career retrospective box set, it’s Doug Sahm. There’s nothing that takes us from the pre Sir Douglas years through to the formation of the Last Real Texas Blues Band and Wayne Douglas’ return, in the year 2000 (via posthumous release). Mercury did put out The Best Of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet: 1968-1975 in 1990 but the time span gave the game away. It was largely culled from the Mercury years plus a few tracks for which the rights had been purchased.
Ah, but I hear you say, did Doug actually do enough to warrant the big box set treatment? And in answer I guess, 99 point something percent of the world’s population would answer “no” or more likely “who’s he?”.
If you’ve heard the name at all you’ll know that he’s the guy who had a US Top Twenty hit with the Sir Douglas Quintet and She’s About A Mover; followed it with a couple more miniscule hits and then was forgotten other than by a small but devoted bunch of souls like myself. In other words, Cult Favourite. Almost the definition of one.
Confession time and it’s a biggie. I managed to resist the charms of Doug and co until the early nineties. I did purchase Together After Five on vinyl but other than Nuevo Laredo which lodged itself in the grey cells I didn’t get that instant light bulb conversion. It was not until picking up one of the Atlantic collections, Doug Sahm & Friends: The Best Of Doug Sahm’s Atlantic Sessions, that the penny dropped. It’s worth repeating some of my words from the Amazon review that I posted:
“I recall picking this up in a second hand rack of CD’s, hoping that it would finally answer the question, do I really like Doug Sahm? I had bought an LP of his way back but always had mixed feelings about it due to the man (and band)’s maddening inconsistency. I liked the odd number very much but plenty of buts about the rest.
“Listening to this one for the first time started bringing back those memories. The opener was OK but I wouldn’t say more. Then there were some very ragged tex-mex sounding tracks which seemed to consist of enthusiasm and not a lot else. There was a Dylan duet which arguably lowered the quality level even more. Things looked up with track 6 which was a tight riffing blues featuring our man on lead guitar. Then there was a tribute to the great Texas soul blues man Bobby “Blue” Bland with Ain`t That Lovin’ You. And this one knocked me out, it was so good. Sahm had evidently been steeped in Bobby Bland’s music for many, many years and the Atlantic session guys and Doug’s crew complemented by Dr. John on sympathetic Hammond B3, were now playing to their strengths. The following track, another blues, wasn’t quite as awesome but was still pretty good.
“From there on things bubbled along beautifully. Virtually every track did something for me…”
etc., etc., and I closed with:
“I’ve also warmed to the earlier tracks specially “Nitty Gritty”. Heck they’re all good.”
And I now love the Doug & Bob duet on (Is Anybody Going To) San Antone.
A great starter pack.
In the interests of space it’s been banished to the Footnotes.
One of the key factors that made Doug different from ordinary mortals was his insistence on genre jumping (and sometimes merging) across the vast bulk of his albums until relatively late in his career, which habit made his albums uncategorisable to the majority of record buyers. But if the listener can get beyond the very human need to pigeonhole everything in sight, not to mention Doug’s tendency to drop in a relatively raw or unrehearsed track alongside something beautifully burnished, then hopefully the penny should drop.
So, some words about, and more importantly some examples of, the music are called for. They’ll sometimes follow his ‘career path’ and sometimes not. Like the man himself.
The Early Years or Life before the SDQ
That period of Doug’s musical life before the Sir Douglas Quintet doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention although several compilations of the material have become available in recent years. Superficially, one might draw a comparison to the Brit groups, initially sparked into life by late fifties rock’n’roll, learning their craft, paying their dues in the village halls and teen dances and getting a record contract circa ’64. But there’s one significant difference sonically. Doug Sahm’s music, even across a variety of combinations, was consistently horn, and to a lesser extent, keyboards, driven. Brit bands of course were solidly guitar based. The only exception that I can think of over here was Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers (which, I guess might be the exception that proves the rule).
Doesn’t matter I hear you say. It does. It makes Doug’s records considerably more sophisticated musically whilst retaining a delightful level of rawness and sheer grease. What Doug was doing was replicating the music he heard in the East Side of San Antonio and. what’s more, playing it in the East Side, largely to a black audience. So he had to be good. Disregarding his Little Sir Doug single as charming but a tad irrelevant, Doug did pretty well sales wise locally. His third single, Why Why Why, a blues ballad sold well in San Antone in 1960. But I’m going for a slightly later one, Just A Moment.
The song was an original from Sunny (Ozuna) and the Sunglows (later Sunliners). And it was another blues ballad. And Doug managed to inject more agony than Sunny. And those horns! This was some band.
The SDQ take off – Huey P. Meaux and Tribe Records
At any one time, Huey Meaux had a number of record labels on the go. The one he used for the Sir Douglas Quintet was Tribe Records. There were 8 (or 9 depending on which list you believe) singles released by the SDQ before the move to Mercury plus an EP and an LP. Huey even had the cheek to title the latter The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet.
The music from this timeframe was far more wide ranging in scope than anything that had preceded it. Almost as if, prior to coming under Huey’s wing, Doug had largely done what he was told to do in the studio – due to age maybe? – or had stuck to the R&B groove on the basis that that was the market he was working in and aiming to sell in to. At Tribe I get the impression that Huey largely allowed Doug and the band to do as they liked in the hope that hits would fall out. This, in part, accounts for the raw state of many of the tracks we now have – they were effectively little more than demos at the time.
There were traditional cum folk styled numbers like In The Pines, In The Jailhouse Now (usually credited to Jimmie Rodgers) and The Story Of John Hardy; pop country numbers like Wolverton Mountain; R&B covers like Quarter To Three; real blues like When I Sing The Blues, plus a number of Doug Sahm originals – he was starting to stretch his legs. And this all came with that lazy slurring vocal delivery that became Doug’s trademark, and often as not, a stonking backbeat from Augie Meyers’ Vox which gave many of the tracks a near garage feel. Evidence of an early enthusiasm to blur genres can be heard on In The Pines where blues guitar fills from Doug himself add fascinating decorative touches:
There was one curio release from Doug and the band prior to the Mercury move. Entitled It’s A Man Down There and sounding very much like a random Jimmy Reed number (or Brit interpretation of the same), it was credited to “Him” and released on one of Huey’s other labels, Teardrop Records. It actually originated with Sonny Boy Williamson II, or Elmore James, and had the title, One Way Out.
Stability – sort of – the Mercury Years
Following an international tour to promote She’s About A Mover, Sahm and the band were arrested for marijuana possession at the airport on their return to Texas. Doug always maintained that this was a set-up and – “It was very hard to be in Texas at that point, you got harassed real bad. The only people there who looked like us were the 13th Floor Elevators.” On his release from jail he moved to San Francisco. Of the rest of the Quintet, only Frank Morin went with him. Once there he formed a new band still using the SDQ name and found work in the Bay Area. A contract with the Smash subsidiary of Mercury followed, and an album entitled Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues (often referred to as the Honkey or Honky Blues Album). Certainly the most unusual of the Sahm recordings so far and unlike later Smash/Mercury albums on which there was more continuity from the Tribe days, it’s worth investigating.
Approximately half of the seven (all bar one Sahm penned) tracks had an R&B feel – multiple horns and piano but much sharper and polished – more like Stax than murky San Antone. But the others had something of a psych hippie thing about them with jazzy elements in place. Most extreme was Song Of Everything. I’ve seen this referred to as a “muted jazz flavoured experiment that prefigures Elvis Costello” and evidence of Doug taking on board influences from another famous Texan, Ornette Coleman.
The original SDQ got back together after that effort and subsequent albums seemed almost like a natural extension of the Tribe era, and that certainly didn’t mean there was necessarily more of a professional production veneer than previously. Their scope just got more extensive, Take Together After Five. It included T-Bone Shuffle, a tribute to the founder of modern Texas Blues; a Dylan cover (Doug’s first on record I think) done in a surprising singalong manner; a slab of reconstituted Leadbelly; and a whole load of Sahm originals. The latter included the semi autobiographical garage anthem, Revolutionary Ways, the splendid Dallas Alice which I’ll return to, and his best chunk of tex-mex so far in the shape of the unforgettable Nuevo Laredo – country guitar, Augie’s Vox and mariachi trumpets – what a mix! On this one you felt that the chicano elements in the band were coming into their own.
Doug’s output from the Atlantic sessions could be thought of as an early version of the “… and star guests” records. It certainly had those big names – Dr. John, David “Fathead” Newman, Flaco Jiménez, a little Dylan, David Bromberg plus several SDQ members including the ubiquitous Meyers.
The albums comprised Doug Sahm And Band (1973), Texas Tornado (also ’73), 1992’s The Best Of Doug Sahm’s Atlantic Sessions (the one that “turned me on”) and a near all-embracing big set entitled The Genuine Texas Groover: Complete Atlantic Recordings in 2004 all culled from a handful of sessions. Sales wise, in spite of receiving way more promotion than any Sahm records so far – Atlantic by the early seventies were up there with the big boys – these albums bombed.
I’ve still only purchased The Best Of Doug Sahm’s Atlantic Sessions out of this bunch but have run through preview samples of the 42 tracks on The Genuine Texas Groover on many occasions – one day the purse will be raided! The title is spot on – the flow of tracks is a groove from first to last. I’d categorise this as something along the same lines as Dylan’s Basement Tapes. One presumes that songs are suggested, often by Doug but probably others as well and off they go. There are plenty of false starts and bits of chat illustrating the informal atmosphere. That said, the ensemble work and arrangements – often by Doug – are brilliant. Numbers tend more to the rootsy – blues, country and a few standards – than on other Sahm outings. There’s little garage. But just because there’s a predominance of covers in his Atlantic oeuvre don’t ignore these discs. Doug was a past master at covers.
As an illustration, here’s Doug’s version of Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues:
Which gives me the ideal opportunity to segue to …
Covers – or from the sublime to the ridiculous and back … and back again
Doug covered almost anything in the early days and it came out sounding like Doug and the boys, largely due to that Vox sound. As time wore on, the Doug persona didn’t disappear but more subtle tones appeared as the relationship between Doug, the song, the production and the arrangement grew in complexity.
The late period When I Fall In Love conjures up Nat “King” Cole. Wiki doesn’t even mention that there was a version cut by Doug Sahm (on 1994’s The Last Real Texas Blues Band) though they do devote a paragraph to the Rick Astley version. I’m entirely happy to use the adjective sublime when talking about it. Nice guitar from Doug as well plus a lovely fruity brass section. He had made attempts at this type of material in the past but this one bettered the lot.
The original of Bacon Fat is a tad more difficult to track down. Recorded by one Andre Williams who was in Detroit at the time, it got to #9 in the US R&B Chart in 1956. This cover came from the Quintet in the Tribe days. Greasy? Yes (and the original is worth searching out).
Your Friends is a blues but it’s one of those slow sumptuous ones that Bobby Bland put on record with a totally sympatico arrangement from Joe Scott. Doug matches Bob every which way and the Atlantic session guys make you almost forget the Scott orchestra:
“Don’t let your friends turn me against you baby”
I had difficulty finding another ridiculous one but perhaps Will You Love Me Mañana might fill the bill. Yes it is the Shirelles/Goffin & King number. It was released on a single in ’88 on the Kevin Kat (!) label and credited to Sir Doug Saldaña. It’s a grower.
Reckon that should have gone in the sublime pile. My next one does – one of Doug’s #BobCovers only with a Lefty Frizzell accent – Love Minus Zero/No Limit from The Return Of Wayne Douglas (2000). There’s also a version of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues out there waiting to be uploaded to YouTube.
Just a couple more. This one came from a tribute album to Roky Erickson released in 1990. Doug’s contribution was You’re Gonna Miss Me. It was credited to Doug Sahm & Sons.
There had to be a rock’n’roll one and this it, Doug’s version of yet another Texan’s original, Linda Lou (or Lu) from Ray Sharpe. It breaks into something else towards the end, something that Doug had a bit of a habit of doing during the Mercury phase.
There are plenty more including a live version of Holly’s Oh Boy, but I think that’s enough for one sub-section.
And he wrote a bit
Doug wasn’t the greatest songwriter ever but he was a lot more than perfunctory. A lot of his lyrics and melodies – usually simple – had a way of sticking in the brain. I recently revisited Alice – see below – after a long time and she decided to stay with me for a day. Dallas Alice was the tale of a lady who “was the daughter of a wealthy man in Texas” who “didn’t approve …. but he knew he couldn’t stop her”. This was coupled with one of our man’s more interesting melody lines. He recorded it at least three times. This is the last one from The Return Of Wayne Douglas.
Another ballad, I Don’t Want To Go Home, documented the rover sensibility. Whether this was a deliberate attempt to put something out in singer/songwriter mode I don’t know but it appeared in that period when people like James Taylor were being feted. It also has a faint air of possible autobiography about it. He was certainly keen on offering comment and personal anecdote; Texas Me is a good example.
I’m Not That Kat Anymore, a one-off single on Casablanca from 1975, tells us of a guy who’s changed his ways. But its delivery was a mega contrast to the foregoing. This was Doug in Texas garage mode and I have to add that I haven’t really done justice to Doug and the SDQ’s contribution to that genre so far. They effectively invented a sub-genre of their very own which later got progressed by guys like Joe King Carrasco. Disappointingly, Doug’s single wasn’t on YouTube (though a later one from the Texas Tornados was). So, as a touch of novelty, I thought I’d give you a tribute version from John Hiatt.
1974’s Groover’s Paradise found Doug making music with the Creedence Clearwater Revival rhythm section and with production from Doug Clifford of the same. There was a mix of tracks but the final one, Catch Me In The Morning, was notable for being a (mainly) gentle country outing with pedal steel and Doug in unusually understated mode. This one very nearly made the cut. The album as a whole comes across as polished but laid back.
A couple of other good examples of Doug’s songwriting abilities are firstly, Give Back The Keys To My Heart which can be found on Texas Rock For Country Rollers. This is a ballad which proceeds from the mundane to agony-packed in the space of a few stanzas. It got covered by Uncle Tupelo.
And could I possibly have ignored At The Crossroads which conjures up thoughts of Doug doing a Faustian deal with Huey Meaux at Robert Johnson’s famous crossroads. That was pushing it; while Huey had a reputation as a bit of a rogue, he wasn’t quite the one with the horns. Doug’s song though, while using the usual metaphor for crossroads, implies that the decision has been made; he’s leaving, though he’s really hoping she’ll see the light one day. The words aren’t easy. They aren’t elegant but he’s decided and he’s going. Musically it’s difficult to describe, sort of slow rocker, largely guitar driven with counterpoint from piano and organ (and this is serious organ, not the pumping or piping kind). And it works. In fantasyland I could almost imagine Jack Scott doing it in his end-of-the-world voice (but I did say fantasy!).
Would I dare to omit Mendocino (the song not the album) wherein he managed to produce a near hippie anthem and an ode to the area of California where he lived? He recreated it in the form of a stoned hipster paradise. I do need to be in the mood for this one.
South of the Border and the Texas Tornados
In the eyes of the public, the Sir Douglas Quintet were tex-mex and forever will be tex-mex. In fact there was actually very little explicitly Mexican about the Tribe recordings but what did make many of them distinctive was that pumping Vox, which probably had its origins in conjunto, albeit heavily filtered. And it was that organ sound that caused the public to identify She’s About A Mover as Mexican rock and roll, following in the tradition of Chris Montez with Let’s Dance and Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs (from Dallas) with the great Wooly Bully. Much the same comment can be made about Mover’s predecessor, Sugar Bee, where Augie’s Vox supplies a massive back beat.
With Nuevo Laredo on Together After Five, the SDQ got a little closer to Mexican music with a mariachi trumpet there to cement the image. Or it did in the eyes and ears of the average white buyer. In reality I should state that the guys were unlikely to be confused with Los Tigres del Norte.
When Doug got the chance in 1990 to form the Texas Tornados along with Flaco Jiménez, with whom he’d already exchanged licks, plus Freddy Fender, one of his heroes, he jumped at it. The group was completed by Augie Meyers plus a bass and drummer who tend to remain anonymous. The music they produced was certainly a lot closer to conjunto with Flaco’s accordion providing the dominant sound. The group is still going after the death of Doug with son Shawn filling his shoes.
I’m reluctant to make selection(s) from their music since our esteemed editor might well view the Tornados as worthy of a Toppermost of their very own (and with some justification). However, some flavour of their music is justified. Here’s a live Hey Baby Que Paso, a typical mix of Texan American and Spanish:
This one has Augie on vocal though this role was typically shared between Doug, Freddy and Senor Meyers.
Hell of a Spell and Can Blue Men sing the Whites?
Covers of blues numbers started appearing under the SDQ name whilst Doug was at Mercury. T-Bone Walker in particular was an early favourite. Doug’s first take of T-Bone Shuffle has already been mentioned. There were to be several more. In terms of compositions he also started emulating his blues faves. West Side Blues Again is a good example.
1980’s Hell Of A Spell was the first Sahm album to take the blues theme and really run with it. It was dedicated to another of Doug’s blues heroes, Guitar Slim, and its centrepiece was an excellent version of Slim’s most well known number, The Things I Used To Do. There were also nods to Bobby Bland (I’ll Take Care Of You) and Junior Parker (Next Time You See Me). And with no disrespect to Augie it probably helped that he wasn’t on this one; more conventional keyboards were the order of the day.
While there were several later recordings of other blues classics, mainly of Texan origin, Doug didn’t make a full return to such music until the formation of the Last Real Texas Blues Band in 1989. The outfit recorded two albums, Juke Box Music and the live The Last Real Texas Blues Band. The band’s title was marginally misleading; there was as much of an emphasis on a recall of the R&B style music that Doug grew up with in the East Side of San Antonio as there was in blues per se. But the second of the pair did give the world a few marvellous blues numbers including a storming live rerun of T-Bone Shuffle with two saxes, a trumpet and Doug’s well honed guitar – he could have played this number in his sleep he’d done it so often. And it stretches out to a good five and a half minutes.
Did you really expect me to answer the question posed by the Bonzos all those years ago? Doug got pretty close though.
Suicidal and Swamp Pop
Sahm fans won’t take kindly to me using the word suicidal in a feature on their hero. Doug was invariably full of the joys of Spring or Texas or what/wherever. However “suicidal” does go hand in glove with those doleful laments from swamp pop land. Doug isn’t usually associated with such music but there are plenty of connections. It wasn’t just popular in SW Louisiana; music doesn’t respect state boundaries and over in SE Texas there were plenty of listeners, not to mention a few performers. And Doug was always keen on picking up all aspects of Texan music.
Back in his very early days he’d shown a broad interest in putting out records broadly in the swamp pop style even if the terminology hadn’t been invented yet. I’m thinking of Why Why Why, Just A Moment and Little Richard’s I Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave. He also seemed to have a thing about the chord sequence, E to B (or B7) and back again. It’s a highly common one in swamp pop but Doug used it frequently on a variety of songs – Nuevo Laredo (for the 100th mention!) and Mendocino are two obvious examples.
But enough of this rationalisation, Doug actually recorded the stuff. On The Return Of Doug Saldaña (Mercury) there’s Freddy Fender’s Wasted Days And Wasted Nights; from the ’73 Atlantic sessions, Jimmy Donley’s Please Mr. Sandman, from 1989’s Juke Box Music, Buck Rogers’ Crazy Baby (which also appeared in the later live set), there’s Joe Barry’s swamp take on I’m A Fool To Care on The Last Real Texas Blues Band (1994), Bobby Charles’ On Bended Knee from S.D.Q. ’98 (1998 of course) and Jimmy Clanton’s Just A Dream from the Swedish comp, San Antonio Hipster (2012).
Here’s Crazy Baby, a number originally from the highly obscure swampie, Buck Rogers (and his Jets), originally recorded for the Montel label in ’59 and subsequently for Jin Records of Ville Platte, Louisiana. Doug was obviously well aware of the Jin single since he picked up the spendid horn riff bodily and it forms a great centrepiece in the new version.
Wayne Douglas and Country
Doug scattered country inflected material across both his Tribe and Mercury phases but maybe one of the best early(ish) intimations of his devotion to the genre was the release of the single Be Real credited to one Wayne Douglas in 1970. This was a full-on Ray Price styled Texas Shuffle with tinkling piano a la Floyd Cramer, rampant fiddle and (slightly subdued) pedal steel. In fact this was a Nashville production with legendary names like Pete Drake, Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Kenneth Buttrey in support.
Baby be real
That’s all I ask of you
Baby be real”
The same alias got reused for the 2000 album The Return Of Wayne Douglas, where everything on the set was steeped in country air (and it had Bobby Flores from Ray Price’s band on fiddle). Whilst it was mainly new originals, Doug also took the opportunity to dust off a few of his earlier songs like Dallas Alice, Texas Me and Cowboy Peyton Place and give them the treatment. And if you’ve read this far you’ll have noted that a well known Dylan number got a makeover as well. It was all carried off with typical Sahm joie de vivre, and more than a degree of authenticity.
In between Wayne Douglas’ first and second appearance we had Texas Rock For Country Rollers in ’76 which was actually credited to Sir Doug and the Texas Tornados! In reality it was largely an augmented SDQ, and that augmentation included a pedal steel. It was mainly but not solely, country. Tracks included the remarkable title, You Can’t Hide a Redneck (Under That Hippy Hair). It was also notable for the first appearance of Cowboy Peyton Place.
“Well I just came in this bar for a beer
I didn’t know that country band was playin’ here
‘Cause I’m in love with a steel player’s wife
And I know it’s not right and I want her tonight
And that’s how it is in Cowboy Peyton Place”
The Final Years
It’s tempting to view the creation of the Tornados and the Last Real Texas Blues Band plus the recording of The Return Of Wayne Douglas as Doug returning – that word again – to the influences of his early days in San Antonio. Tempting and at least to an extent, valid. The result of these endeavours was music that was closer to those forms that whirled around San Antonio in the fifties – honky tonk country, tex-mex in all its forms and R&B (since The Last Real Texas Blues Band albums were dominated more by R&B and blues ballads/swamp pop than full-on blues). Or to put that last point more succinctly it was more blues in its dance hall format than the contemplative stuff. And these records were less tainted by cross cultural influences or by genre bending, than Doug’s music from the Mercury years through what I would term the middle years. There’s almost a feeling that he wanted to lay these tracks down while he still had all his faculties, and, was in a position to get the very best in backing musicians and support in general.
I’d hazard a guess that some critics might have found these albums too comfortable. To Doug, though, they were statements for posterity and I’m inclined to go along with him.
“You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul”
(from At The Crossroads)
I’m not sure I’m in full agreement with Doug on that one and somewhat doubt that he would have come up with those words in ’67, when he was virtually drummed out of the state. What is undeniable, though, is that Texas has nurtured far, far more than its share of musicians from every form of popular music. From Blind Lemon Jefferson, Gene Autrey and Ernest Tubb to the Polyphonic Spree and the Butthole Surfers with stop-offs for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nanci Griffith and Roy Orbison, this state has provided the world with a quite incredible amount of high grade music. Doug Sahm was/is part of that evolving story. He respected the traditions and maintained them but also worked within and around them, creating something new, something that was purely Doug in the process. That’s what those other Texan innovators did, like T-Bone Walker and Bob Wills – they created music that was clearly them and no one else.
That’s all a bit OTT. Rewind and sample some of the music. Stick some ribs on the barbie and crack out the Don Esquis beer. Stick Mendocino on – loudly. Maybe it’ll work.
Most rock critics have been positive about Doug – the Rolling Stone lot loved him. There were mixed views on some albums. Doug Sahm And Band divided them – Greil Marcus wasn’t too keen. Certain tracks also had the divisive effect. Robert Christgau was generally partial but reckoned Song For Everything was a dog.
“… but it’s the kind of album you keep coming back to. It has something that very few albums I’ve heard recently have got – atmosphere.” Ed Ward, Rolling Stone on Mendocino
“.. one of rock & roll’s most important if under-celebrated talents” Thom Jurek in his review of He’s About A Groover
“Although Doug Sahm’s cult has never assembled a best-of consistent enough to convert listeners who think tex-mex equals burritos, he defines a style as purely rock ‘n’ roll as doo-wop or grunge. Buoyed by Augie Meyers’s organ and borrowing tunes from the polka conjuntos of his San Antonio raising, the best of his simple songs riff as infectiously as Allen Toussaint’s. This 1981 Austin City Limits show, consumer-available as one of a fans-only series that also includes an unnecessary Texas Tornados set, catches him just right at 40. Hard living hasn’t wrecked his voice, the musicianship is more disciplined than anything Huey Meaux imposed, new guy Alvin Crow is breaking out, and Sahm is flogging a strong late album. Even beats that Bottle Rockets tribute, I swear. Add tortillas, homemade salsa, and “96 Tears,” and you’re all set.” Robert Christgau’s review of Live From Austin TX
“They don’t say so on the jacket, but this is The Doug Sahm Showcase, featuring the former leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet paying homage to his boyhood heroes Bob Wills, Bobby Bland and T-Bone Walker, and proving that he can play any style of guitar better than you and me, not to mention the fiddle. If you remember that Doug’s last LP for Philips, The Return of Doug Saldaña, was also a back-to-the-roots testimonial to Texas music, stay tuned: This one is better.” Charlie Gillett in a Rolling Stone review of Doug Sahm And Band
“He plays and sings the Texas shuffle blues that way it was intended by the originals like T-Bone Walker, Junior Parker, Bobby Bland and the Joe Scott Orchestra on a good night.” Jerry Wexler, sleeve notes to Juke Box Music
Herewith the missing Doug (and SDQ) biography:
Douglas Wayne Sahm was born on the 6th of November, 1941 in San Antonio, Texas. He died on November the 19th, 1999 in Taos, New Mexico.
San Antonio was split three ways racially – the white population was in a minority. The city’s East Side was largely black and the West Side was predominantly Chicano, populated by immigrants from Mexico. Those three threads informed Doug Sahm’s music right from the start. He was a child prodigy steel guitar player and performed on stage with Hank Williams before the age of ten. He was playing Texas blues in his teens and reportedly sat in with T-Bone Walker. And he was incorporating Mexican tejano music into his act from the beginning – in the Chicano community he was known as Doug Saldaña.
The first record from Doug, A Real American Joe coupled with Rollin’, Rollin’ was credited to Little Doug & the Bandits and released in March 1955 i.e. when Doug was 13. Follow-ups (from ’58 onwards) came out on a range of tiny indie labels and were more in line with the late fifties R&B music that Doug started playing in his teens in bars in the city. Influences were numerous but included Little Richard and James Brown plus local favourites like Sunny & the Sunglows. He appeared and recorded with a number of bands including the Pharoahs, the Knights, the MarKays, the Dell-Kings and the Spot Barnett Band.
As the sixties rolled on, the Sahm band gradually started to look more like the first incarnation of the SDQ, comprising Augie Meyers on keyboards (Vox Continental organ in the early days), Frank Morin on sax and trumpet, Harvey Kagan on bass and Johnny Perez on drums. Several of these guys, most notably Meyers would appear with Sahm throughout his career regardless of whether the outfit was billed as the SDQ or not.
The breakthrough came via Houston record man Huey P. Meaux, nicknamed the Crazy Cajun, who had already written and/or produced and/or distributed records that turned magically into hits for a host of Gulf Coast artists including Barbara Lynn, Joe Barry, B.J. Thomas, Rod Bernard and Dale & Grace, and would go on and produce more hits for the likes of Roy Head and Freddy Fender. With the Brit invasion hitting in earnest in ’64, Meaux wanted a group something like the Beatles or the Stones and came to the conclusion Doug & co could be that band. Apparently he told Doug to grow his hair, find some weird clothes and “write a rocker with a Cajun two-step beat”. He named them “The Sir Douglas Quintet” and presented the band to the public as English rockers. (Info courtesy of John Lomax III from the sleeve notes to the album, Sir Douglas Quintet; The Crazy Cajun Recordings). The band’s first effort, a rerun of Cleveland Crochet’s Sugar Bee did absolutely nothing but its follow-up, the record that’s now indelibly associated with the band, She’s About A Mover, smashed into the US Top Twenty. Okay, slight over-emphasis there but it did get a fair bit of attention.
There was a lesser one, The Rains Came, but it wasn’t remarkable so let’s move on. In 1967 the SDQ got picked up by one of the bigger labels, Mercury Records. The label marketed them more as album artists and with some success. This would have been helped by the fact that Doug spent some time in San Francisco, which at that time of course, was the centre of alternative culture in pop music and all things beyond.
The stay at Mercury resulted in six albums (all credited to the Sir Douglas Quintet) and several singles. This was the biggest body of work that Doug would produce for any label. One of the singles, Mendocino, gave the band another minor hit in ’68.
Doug’s next port of call in 1973 was Atlantic where he was actually billed as Doug Sahm rather than the Sir Douglas Quintet. Confusingly though, Augie Meyers and Jack Barber also played on many of the tracks as did other friends associated with San Antonio and the SDQ. This was in addition to that famous Atlantic rhythm section and some famous guests.
From 1974 onwards Doug’s career can be summarised as haphazard, random or even chaotic. It included label hopping, use of aliases, multiple band names even when often the same people were involved (Texas Mavericks, Formerly Brothers, etc.) and a period in Europe (he signed with the Swedish label Sonet in ’83).
From 1990 on he appeared regularly, and made records with, the Texas Tornados, a kind of supergroup as has been documented above.
On with the Footnotes:
I was a bit sniffy about The Best Of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet: 1968-1975. That’s unfair. It does a good job covering the Mercury years and includes singles material, unreleased stuff and a couple of the Atlantic sides. And it includes session info. But I’d particularly bring it to your attention for the excellent liner notes from Gene Santoro.
The assiduous reader will have noted that, following my first mention of the Sir Douglas Quintet I largely dropped to the abbreviated version, the SDQ. I’d add that Sahm is colloquially referred to as Sir Doug by his fans.
Reportedly, rockabilly hero Rudi “Tutti” Grayzell used to go to Sahm’s school when the lad was 11, pose as his uncle and pull the musical prodigy out of school to play some of the gigs that required some travel to the extent that an early departure was needed.
Doug Sahm made not one, but three albums with titles that started “The Return Of …” – The Return Of Doug Saldaña, The Return Of The Formerly Brothers (a collaboration with Amos Garrett and Gene Taylor), The Return Of Wayne Douglas.
Huey Meaux was born just outside Kaplan, Louisiana but the family moved to Winnie, near Beaumont, Texas when Huey was 12. He worked as a barber by day plus DJ and occasional drummer by night. His peers at the time in the local music business were George Jones, J.P. Richardson (better known as the Big Bopper) and Moon Mullican. He produced his first regional hit in 1959, Jivin’ Gene’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. He moved to Houston in ’63, and in addition to the chart hits, recorded a host of famous names straddling multiple genres, including T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Copeland, Doug Kershaw, Clifton Chenier, Mickey Gilley (Jerry Lee’s cousin), Ronnie Milsap, a very young Sonny Landreth and more. His music activities also extended to record label ownership, studio ownership and artist management.
Readers should beware of an album entitled Prime Of Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best Of The Tribe Recordings. It does have most of the Tribe recordings but in addition it also has a number of tracks from the later Mercury/Smash release, Together After Five. So long as you’re aware of this point (and you don’t own the latter) this shouldn’t be a problem – you could regard the later tracks as a bonus.
If anyone wants another example of Doug’s affinity for jazz, try the five minute instrumental entitled Outro – it’s the last track – on Back To The ‘Dillo (1988).
Revolutionary Ways from Together After Five was covered by Jerry Lee Lewis on his Southern Roots album, produced by Huey Meaux.
My assumption, and I could be wrong, is that the spelling of “Kat” on I’m Not That Kat Anymore is a side reference to early American cartoon character Krazy Kat.
The John Hiatt version of I’m Not A Kat Anymore came from an album called I Heard It On The X, from Los Super Seven released in 2005. Los Super Seven were a kind of very, very loose – the members kept changing – supergroup. They released three albums and this one was the third.
On his debut album Guy Clark had a song called Let Him Roll. The penultimate verse ran as follows:
“We all left and she was standing there
Black veil covering her silver hair
And ‘ol One-Eyed John said her name was Alice
And she used to be a whore in Dallas”
Was that a reference to Doug’s song or an earlier song from Moon Mullican, or just a bit of wordplay? Texan singer/songwriters were known to be a mutually supportive bunch.
The title “Texas Tornado” has been used several times by Doug. When first spotted it was a song from the Atlantic sessions. Then it was the name of our man’s backing group on Texas Rock For Country Rollers. Finally it was the name of the supergroup formed by Doug and others in 1990.
The Toppermost editor was kind enough to allow me to have 12 selections on the basis that, in his view, there were two artists involved, Doug Sahm solo and the Sir Douglas Quintet. He said that I could have 6 for each. It’s come out weighted more heavily in favour of the solo recordings but in my defence, I’d mention that members of the SDQ were present on some of those solo efforts.
My intention when starting this Toppermost was to keep the word count low but push up the videos, my logic being that I wasn’t going to convert anyone to Doug Sahm with words; it was the music that mattered. I failed abysmally on the first count but I hope I’ve included enough tracks to interest the uninitiated in the delights of one of the most fascinating musicians to emerge from Texas in the last century.
Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX
Of the 12 tracks in Dave’s Doug Sahm Toppermost, 4 are credited to the Sir Douglas Quintet: She’s About A Mover, Song Of Everything, At The Crossroads, Nuevo Laredo.