An afternoon with Doug Sahm

Ah, I wish that I’d been able to write that title prior to 1999. Truth of the matter is I didn’t truly didn’t ‘know’ about or appreciate Sahm’s musical genius until after it was too late to be able to experience it first hand. My only contact I’d had with his music prior to his death was via the Texas Tornados via Freddy Fender. NewWest Records, as part of their Live in Austin series, has released to DVD the recording of Doug Sahm made in 1975 at the Armadillo World Headquarters and goes along way to preserving Sahm’s contributions to music. Sahm’s stage persona and his obvious love for music is clearly evident throughout. The music is barely regulated as it escapes from his every pore. Well worth any music lover’s effort in including it in their home video collection.

Below is a TCB review of Sahm’s “Return of Wayne Douglas” album which we brought to the attention of our reader’s back in 2002. Annie did an amazing job on it so we thought we’d share it again here…. 

(Tornado) Over the years, Texas has produced many colorful characters, and Doug Sahm certainly rates as one of the more colorful of them. Doug, born in 1941 in San Antonio, Texas, started playing music, practically from the day he was born. He was considered a prodigy on steel-guitar, mandolin and fiddle, made his radio debut at age 5 on KMAC in San Antonio, which led to 2 years of radio appearances on the Mutual network. By age 8, he became a featured player on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. He sat in on live performances by such greats as Hank Thompson, Webb Pierce and Faron Young. He performed with Hank Williams in Austin, less than 2 weeks before Hank’s death.

 By his pre-teens, he also became taken with the blues and R&B music of the artists that regularly played a club nearby his house- T-Bone Walker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Hank Ballard, and James Brown. He listened intently to his neighbor’s 45’s of Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Fats Domino. As a teen, Doug was offered a regular spot on the Grand Ol’ Opry, however, his mother decided he should stay home and finish school. He released several singles on local labels starting at age 11, and during his high school years, he fronted several bands, including the Pharaohs, Dell-Kings and Markays. In 1960, he met Auggie Meyers, who had a band called the Goldens, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship.

 For several years, Doug had begged producer Huey P. Meaux (aka/Crazy Cajun) to record him. However, Huey was having success with the artists he was already working with, and wasn’t interested- until “The British Invasion” that sent “American” music sales plummeting. Huey locked himself in a hotel room with a supply of Thunderbird wine and every Beatles record he could find, determined to figure out what it was that made this music sell. He decided it was the “beat,” which he said was nothing more than a Cajun two-step. He then called up Doug, told him to write a song with a Cajun two-step beat, grow his hair long, and form a group. Doug put together a band that consisted of members of his Markays and Auggie’s Goldens. Huey gave them an “English-sounding” name, the Sir Douglas Quintet. Huey must have been on to something because in 1965, the Sir Douglas Quintet had an international hit with the song “She’s About A Mover.”

 Doug moved to San Francisco in 1966, where he stayed for 5 years, putting out several albums, before returning to Texas. Doug’s music is impossible to classify as one style or another, country, rock, blues, Western swing, Tex-Mex and polka are all in the mix of the music he’s made over the years with the various bands he played with- Sir Douglas, Doug Sahm And Band, The Last Great Texas Blues Band and the Texas Tornados. However, no matter where his path took him, while he was as comfortable opening a Grateful Dead show as he was playing what he affectionately called, his “sentimental cornpone country,” he always remained true to his Texas roots, and never strayed far from the country music he loved for too long.

 He also carried around several “aliases” that were actually nicknames picked up over the years playing in different bands. When he played steel guitar for Alvin Crow, they named him “Wayne Douglas.” By the late ’90s, Doug was thoroughly disgusted by the shallow, meaningless, saccharine, assemblyline crapola that Nashville was passing off as “country” music. It was time to pull out the big guns, bring “Wayne Douglas” back, and put out the ultimate anti-Nashville album: fill it with plenty of moaning steel, weeping fiddles and “sentimental cornpone”/honky tonk country songs, or in other words, put out an album of straightforward, traditional Texas style country music. 

 The Return Of Wayne Douglas is a bittersweet effort that accomplishes his mission. The album was released in 2000, posthumously. Sadly, this is Doug’s last recorded work, as he very unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 58, in November of 1999, just after he finished recording these sessions.

 Doug went into the studio with longtime compadre Auggie Meyers in tow, and assembled the ace lineup of Tommy Detamore on steel & acoustic guitar, Bobby Flores on fiddle & background vocals, David Carroll on upright bass, Dan Dreeber on drums, Bill Kirchen on electric guitar, Ron Huckaby on piano, Clay Blaker on acoustic guitar & vocals, and son Shawn on background vocals.

 If the songs on The Return Of Wayne Douglas are “sentimental cornpone,” then sentimental cornpone sounds an awful lot like some pretty great traditional Texas dancehall country music. The kind that has heart and soul down to it’s very core. The kind where steel and fiddle abounds everywhere. While his speaking voice was little more than a rasp, his singing voice comes off strong, clear, soulful, and many times hits downright beautiful, dripping with Texas twang. He sings with the exuberance and honesty of a man that truly loves the music and is proud of that “sentimental cornpone” of which he sings.

 Nine of the twelve songs were written by Doug. The mid-tempo shuffle, “I Don’t Trust No One When It Comes To My Heart,” is co-written and co-sung with Clay Blaker. Two songs are covers, a beautiful, fiddle ladden take on Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” and Leon Payne’s “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me,” drenched in steel and fiddle.

 He gets in his swipe at cookie cutter Nashville with the honky tonker, “Oh No! Not Another One.” In the opening line he proclaims “I’m a real country fan, son…” He goes on to describe his disgust when flipping on CMT, seeing “this young dude walkin’ across the stage like a giselle, hell I bet he’s never even heard of Lefty Frizzell…” and how Bob Wills’ fiddle “has been replaced by laser beams and smoke.”  At the same time, Austin doesn’t escape a snipe in “I Can’t Go Back To Austin.” Doug was often vocal about his displeasure at how that city was changing and becoming more and more homogenized.

 “Cowboy Peyton Place” swings with the story of the guy in love with the steel player’s wife. The Texas pride shines through on the pretty “Beautiful Texas Sunshine” with it’s flourishes of fiddle, fields of bluebonnets and other such “sentimental cornpone,” and the song he wrote while living in San Francisco, and was homesick for Texas, “Texas Me.” Doug dusts off the lovely “Dallas Alice” and delivers it with aching tenderness.

 The Return Of Wayne Douglas showcases Doug’s honky tonk roots, with a little western swing and Tex-Mex in the mix. Shuffles, barroom weepers, and a strong shot of Texas attitude are bountiful. Steel and fiddle are brought way up front in the spotlight and not relegate to being a “token” presence kept way in the background. Fortunately, Doug Sahm was granted enough time on earth to return to his roots and first love, and was able to finish this album to show Nashville what real country music is, and is really all about. Unfortunately, with his untimely passing, the world lost a truly gifted artist that no matter which path he traveled, always knew just how to keep it honest and real.  

AnnMarie Harrington Take Country Back August 2002

One Response to “An afternoon with Doug Sahm”

  1. viva sir doug! glad to see someone else who appreciates him. if you havent already, check out his ‘groover’s paradise’ from the mid-1970s. he’s at his twangy, texas-loving best.

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