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In recognizing the talent of Doug Sahm I have decided to post items reflective of each of the various music types that he was so very proficient at. The posts will a collection of songs under each type. In OMO Doug Sahm is the most influential musician that came out of the Texas 60's It is an absolute shame that he is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where he rightly belongs.
Doug Sahm is a giant of American music, and he’s even bigger than that in his home state of Texas. But the rebel cowboy hippie who spent his life crossing the borders of Tex-Mex, British Invasion, psychedelia and honky-tonk continues to flirt with obscurity long after his death. By Mitch Myers
In the old days, unless your name was George Bush, Texas kids (even the white ones) would rarely dream of growing up to be president of the United States. Of course, Texas has always had its fair share of idyllic wealth and golden opportunities, but it was one tough place to live in the early 1950s. And for an all-American boy to imagine escaping the pervasive barrenness, narrow-minded intolerance and soul-killing humdrum of everyday Texas life, dreams just needed to be a little bit more down to earth.
A San Antonio kid might fantasize about being a country-music legend like Hank Williams. A few years later, that same kid might grease back his hair and imagine being Elvis Presley or a local hero like Lubbock’s Buddy Holly. Or maybe he’d learn to play the devil out of the guitar and dress to the nines like Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker, a pimped-out blues pioneer from Linden. Later still, that very same kid could fantasize about being in a group like the Rolling Stones or singing like Bob Dylan or maybe jamming with the Grateful Dead.
Doug Sahm dared to dream all those different dreams, and he grew up to be all those different people. He traversed the realms of country, jump blues, honky tonk, primal rock ‘n’ roll, Cajun, San Francisco psychedelia, all sorts of roots music (including Tex-Mex, Conjunto and two-step polkas), as well embracing sophisticated jazz, soul, R&B and Dylan. Sahm met most of the famous artists he respected, shared in the joys of their music and delved into their unique lives. But he always moved on.
Sahm played American music. He mastered the steel guitar by the age of five and soon played fiddle, electric guitar, bass and mandolin; he could also sing his ever-loving ass off. Sahm epitomized the complex traditions of Texas music in a way that Willie Nelson never could. Of course, Nelson was smart. Smart enough to emulate Sahm’s redneck-hippie persona and doubly smart to hook up with Waylon Jennings, another Texas rebel. Still, when it came to Texas, Sahm was the man.
Sahm was the hometown boy made good. He earned his own living on his own terms, was fanatical about baseball and wrestling, brought his reefer with him everywhere he went and loved Texas as much as he loved music. A fast-talking cosmic cowboy, Sahm performed and recorded prolifically for more than 50 years, until his death on Nov. 18, 1999. Still, the Sahm discography remains splintered and disorganized, with several of his finest recordings lamentably out of print. In a world where American music martyrs like Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons command respect in terms of comprehensive reissues, there’s no retrospective boxed set being planned for Sahm.
There are, however, two new tribute albums. The Bottle Rockets’ Songs Of Sahm and Eugene Chadbourne’s Texas Sessions: Chapter Two were made on minuscule budgets and released on indie labels. There are no special duets or alt-country superstars paying homage—just bright new versions of wonderful songs written by Sahm.
“Doug’s an example of why music is interesting, and it’s not about accumulating large amounts of money,” says avant/jazz/psych guitarist Chadbourne. “The guy was into so many styles of music; it’s too much for most people. Going from psychedelic rock to country and then a heavy blues thing, he kept jumping around the whole time.”
While he may be the polar musical opposite of Chadbourne, Brian Henneman—frontman of alt-roots-rockers the Bottle Rockets—agrees. “The first time I heard Doug Sahm, our friend put on (1969’s) Mendocino,” he says. “From note one, the sound of that record was cooler than anything that I’d been listening to. I wasn’t even wise enough to formulate the reasons why I loved it. I didn’t realize that it was country and blues and Mexican music and psychedelic rock. I didn’t separate it like that yet. I was still digging Aerosmith.”
Catch A Man On The Rise
Born Nov. 6, 1941, Douglas Wayne Sahm began making Texas music at a very early age. With his parents’ encouragement, Sahm was touted as a child prodigy playing a triple-neck Fender steel guitar. An instrumental wunderkind, he appeared on radio and television and went by the stage name Little Doug. Something of a novelty, Little Doug performed on Louisiana Hayride (a popular live radio show), played with local Western-swing bands and began supporting big-time country acts like Webb Pierce and Hank Thompson. Little Doug even appeared onstage with Hank Williams in Austin in 1953, just two weeks before Williams’ death.
A smattering of black blues bars on San Antonio’s East Side had a huge impact on Sahm as a teenager. Sneaking into the Eastwood Country Club near his home, the underage Sahm would watch and listen to mature R&B performers like T-Bone Walker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Hank Ballard and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Drummer Ernie Durawa met Sahm in 1957 and gigged with him sporadically over the next four decades. “We bounced around all of the clubs on the East Side,” says Durawa. “That was our education, learning to play blues shuffles. We had a gig playing in a black band led by a tenor player named Spot Barnett at a club called the Ebony.”
Attending high school by day and playing shows at night, Sahm also worked at a nightspot called the Tiffany Lounge in the Chicano-dominated West Side, where shootings were common and a breed of rough-and-tumble musicians was getting its start. The brusque mixture of white, black and Hispanic culture was a natural part of life in downtown San Antonio, and it soon became a component of Sahm’s own sound.
Sahm made his recording debut in 1955, but it took a few years for his local appeal to take hold. Now leaning toward San Antonio’s Hispanic “West Side Sound,” replete with a bruising horn section, he enjoyed regional success with the Little Richard-inspired screamer “Crazy Daisy.” By the time Doug Sahm & The Mar-Kays (featuring tenor saxophonist Rocky Morales) hit it big with “Why, Why, Why” in 1960, his celebrity within San Antonio’s Chicano population was well established.
As a hip-shaking-cat-gone-rock-‘n’-roller, Sahm provided South Texas with a local alternative to the growing number of entertainers inspired by Elvis Presley. During this time, Sahm became aware of a Tex-Mex recording artist called El Be-Bop Kid. The Kid was born Baldemar Huerta but became forever known as Freddy Fender, and like so many musicians Sahm met during those days—Barnett, Morales, Durawa and drummer Johnny Perez among them—he would be pulled into Sahm’s musical whirlwind for decades to come.
Sahm’s next group, the Sir Douglas Quintet, was born of the British Invasion; just as the Beatles and Stones captured the imagination of teenagers on both coasts, they inspired the racially mixed R&B groups thriving in San Antonio. Original SDQ bassist Jack Barber remembers things this way: “The type of music we played in San Antonio was rhythm and blues like Bobby Bland, with horns and a lot of chord changes. They had these battle of the bands, and everybody had to kick butt or you weren’t in the clique. The Quintet came in 1964; Doug came up with the idea after the Beatles came out. He knew Huey could help us.”
Enter Huey P. Meaux, a.k.a. “The Crazy Cajun.” A self-styled hustler who owned a barbershop in Houston, Meaux had his fingers in countless pies and made contacts in the course of his work behind the barber chair. Just why Sahm was so excited to make records with Meaux is something to consider, but their unusual business alliance proved to be successful beyond anyone’s expectations. The key to their success lay in the hands of a childhood friend of Sahm’s named Augie Meyers. Meyers owned a Vox Continental organ (the only one in Texas at the time), and it became the jewel in Sahm’s ornate musical crown.
“Doug and me grew up together since we were 10 years old and met at my momma’s grocery store when he was looking through all the baseball cards,” recalls Meyers. “I had my band and he had his band until we were in our 20s, then we got together for the Quintet. I opened a show for the Dave Clark Five, and Doug’s band came on afterward. Huey Meaux was there, trying to see what all the commotion was about with those English bands. Huey said, ‘Man, you got long hair, and Doug, you got long hair—you all got to put a band together. Let’s get an English name and go with it.’ So that’s what we did, but it was really hard to pull off because we had three Mexican guys in the band.”
Masquerading as an English group with Prince Valiant haircuts, the Sir Douglas Quintet didn’t receive a royal reception with its first single, 1964’s “Sugar Bee.” But the group’s second effort, “She’s About A Mover,” broke things wide open later that year. Powered by Sahm’s bluesy voice and Meyers’ monomaniacal Vox pulse, “Mover” borrowed from Ray Charles’ “What I Say” while adding the demented context of infectious greaser garage rock. “We were doing things different way back when,” says Meyers. “‘She’s About A Mover’ was a polka with a rock ‘n’ roll beat and a Vox organ. I played what a bajo sexto (a 12-string bass guitar) player in a Conjunto band would do.”
Sahm, Meyers, Barber, Perez and saxophonist Frank Marin were soon touring America, opening for the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Otis Redding and the Beach Boys, as well as appearing on television programs like Hullabaloo and Shindig. It was around this time Sahm met Bob Dylan, who insisted he wasn’t fooled by the SDQ’s English façade on Shindig.
The SDQ released more singles and scored again with “The Rains Came,” but the band’s momentum came to an abrupt stop when its members were arrested at the Corpus Christi airport for possession of marijuana. Pot laws in Texas were unusually harsh during this time, and the bust didn’t bode well for the SDQ.
Not to be deterred, Meaux released the band’s debut full-length, The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet, in 1965. The “best of” title was a particularly confusing claim for a group’s first record, but Meaux was unsure of the Quintet’s future after the bust. So unsure, in fact, that he designed an album cover featuring the band in silhouette in an attempt to extend its faux-British mythos. The anonymous group photo also allowed Meaux to package phony versions of the SDQ for concert appearances while Sahm and the boys were out of commission.