Saturday, October 18, 2008

Doug Sahm, the Sir Douglas Quintet & the Texas Tornados

Texas may have given us the Worst President Ever, but has also produced legendary musicians through the years. I discovered Doug Sahm only a few years ago, after picking up a CD compilation at the library (thank you Multnomah County Library). I became an immediate fan, drawn to a voice with R&B soul and power straight out of a San Antonio, Texas roadhouse. I've had a hard time putting this post together because there is a paucity of representative videos of Doug Sahm. I've found a few which I like, but I'm not satisfied that they do the man justice.

Sahm started out at a very young age playing country music, reportedly appearing on stage with Hank Williams at age 11. He moved into blues and R&B in the 50s, and in the latter part of his career played a part in defining Tex-Mex music with the Texas Tornados, a "supergroup" in which he was joined by Freddie Fender, Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyer.

In the mid-60s, Sahm tried to ride the wave of the British Invasion by dressing as a mod and performing as “The Sir Douglas Quintet.” The band's biggest challenge in pulling off this trick is the fact that two of its five members were Mexican. Bob Dylan became a fan and a friend, and is quoted as having said, "Look, for me right now there are three groups: Butterfield, The Byrds and the Sir Douglas Quintet."

Here’s a TV performance of one of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s hits, "She's About a Mover" (three of their tunes reached the Top 10). This clip is from the show “Hullabaloo” (that’s Trini Lopez making the intro). Ignore the cartoon set, the pageboy haircuts and the human props. It’s a catchy tune, Sahm’s voice is in fine form and I love that big old Gibson jazz guitar he's playing:

Sahm jettisoned the pageboy haircut, left Texas for San Francisco and Marin County, and went full-on hippie-cowboy. (The Rolling Stone cover from 1968 captures the image). I’m a big fan of Gram Parsons, but Sahm did the rock/country fusion first and was, in my opinion, a superior singer, musician and band leader. (To be fair, Gram Parson compensated with his charisma and earnestness that made it all work beautifully). In this clip of “Nuevo Laredo,” the emergence of Sahm's Tex-Mex sound is clearly demonstrated:

In 1990, Doug Sahm reconnected with old friends to form the Texas Tornados, a Tejano band described as a "Tex-Mex Supergroup." (Okay, I'll admit to being a closet Freddy Fender fan). They put out a few albums, won a Grammy (for "Best Mexican/American Performance"), and performed at Clinton's first inauguration. Here they are on Austin City Limits doing, "Hey Baby Que Paso?" It's not a great showcase of Doug Sahm's singing since Augie Meyer is singing the lead (that's Doug on the organ), but will have to do.

Here’s Sahm with a reincarnated Sir Douglas Quintet, playing a Kinks song that I find incredibly infectious. Trivia: That's Doug's son Shawn with the guitar and the sleeveless cowboy shirt.

When Doug Sahm died in 1999 at the age of 58, the Austin Chronicle printed an edition packed with articles and stories from admirers, friends and fellow musicians. Last April, the Austin's City Council approved the naming the highest point of the new park near Lady Bird Lake "Doug Sahm Hill."

I’ll close with a non-music clip--a brief cameo appearance Sahm made in the Kris Kristofferson flick “Cisco Pike” (1972). Another bit of trivia: That video was uploaded to YouTube by Doug’s son, Shandon Sahm, who was a member of the Meat Puppets.

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