He was the one individual who could play every form of indigenous Texas music authentically and with passion.
Born in San Antonio, the grandson of a German “Oom-Pah” bandleader, he was a steel guitar child prodigy called Little Doug, raised in South Texas country music dancehalls, and somewhat famous for sitting on Hank Williams’ lap and appearing on his very last show, and performing in Shreveport to a massive regional audience listening to the Louisiana Hayride on their radios. By age sixteen, he was playing in rhythm and blues big bands, writing and arranging music, and cranking out hit records as Doug Sahm. In his early 20s, his band The Sir Douglas Quintet passed themselves off as from England during the height of rock’s British Invasion and achieved international stardom with a Tex-Mex beat. After a drug bust in Texas, Sahm went into exile in California and became a major player in San Francisco’s psychedelic music scene that peaked with the Summer of Love in 1967. Five years later, he was the catalyst who put Austin on the national music map. He went through a string of musical reinventions, ultimately founding the Tex-Mex supergroup, The Texas Tornados, featuring his sidekick Augie Meyer, his mentor Freddy Fender, and his protégé Flaco Jimenez.
Friend of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Dr. John, Fathead Newman, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and several generations of musicians of all stripes, Sahm played a critical role in launching and re-launching the careers of Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Steve Jordan and Roky Erickson. Above all, he was the “Groover’s groover”, a kinetic whirlwind moving at a mile a minute who also happened to be an exceptional musician and a natural bandleader. An engaging, larger than life character who operated on instinct, he wore his heart in his lyrics, and made some profound observations along the way, not the least of which was:
“You just can’t live in Texas/if you don’t have a lot of soul.”
Delivering the word in rapid-fire hip-talking soul cat jive straight out San Antonio’s El West Side, Sahm was a player’s player who could hit the note, work a rhythm, and fall into a natural groove effortlessly, no matter if he was playing onstage or in the studio, cutting record deals, hyping a gig, or making movie cameos playing himself: the pot-smoking, Pearl Beer-drinking, enchilada-eating longhaired electric cowboy from Texas.
He was big in Austin, big in San Antonio, big in San Francisco, big in Sweden, big in western Canada, big on television’s American Bandstand, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Ready Steady Go, Austin City Limits. Admired by pretty much every player he shared a stage with, he was a singing, twanging encyclopedia of Texas music, able to quote T-Bone Walker, Bob Wills, Adolph Hofner, Sunny Ozuna, Lefty Frizzell, Buddy Holly, and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators at the call of “in the key of C, gentlemen.”
Doug Sahm was the Texas cat of Texas cats, and Texas’ musical soul, all about the groove.
This is his story.