Douglas Wayne Sahm (November 6, 1941 – November 18, 1999) was an American musician and singer-songwriter from Texas. Born in San Antonio, Texas, he was a child prodigy in country music but became a significant figure in roots rock and other genres. Sahm is considered one of the most important figures in what is identified as Tex-Mex music. Proficient on multiple instruments, he was the founder and leader of the 1960s rock and roll band, the Sir Douglas Quintet. He would later co-found the Texas Tornados with Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jiménez as well as Los Super Seven.
Sahm began his musical career singing and playing steel guitar, mandolin, and violin. He made his radio debut at the age of five. He released his first record "A Real American Joe" at age eleven. On December 19, 1952, at the age of eleven, he played on stage with Hank Williams Sr. at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas. It was Hank Williams's very last performance. Williams died on New Year's Day of 1953, on the road to his next show, in Canton, Ohio. Sahm was offered a permanent spot on the Grand Ole Opry at age thirteen, but his mother wanted him to finish junior high.
One of Sahm's earliest recordings was rejected by Mercury Records in 1953. In the mid-1950s, he started sneaking into San Antonio rhythm and blues clubs, such as the Tiffany Lounge and the Ebony Lounge, and he was soon performing in them. Sahm formed his first band, the Knights, in 1957. Later in the decade, Sahm joined up with Spot Barnett's band, playing mostly black San Antonio blues clubs. In 1960, Sahm travelled across the country promoting a record. He met Freddy Fender in 1958 and met Roy Head, of Roy Head and the Traits, from San Marcos, Texas, in 1959, when they shared the stage at a sock hop in San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium.
In 1965, prompted by record producer Huey Meaux, Sahm formed the Sir Douglas Quintet with childhood friend Augie Meyers. They chose the group's name in an effort to make the band seem British to benefit from the British invasion. This image had its problems, particularly because of Sahm's Texas accent and because two of five band members were Hispanic. Some early publicity photos were shot in silhouette to hide this fact.
The band had a top 20 U.S. hit with "She's About a Mover" and a lesser hit with "The Rains Came," the former also reaching the Top Twenty in the UK Singles Chart. The band broke up after a bust for marijuana possession in Corpus Christi, Texas. Sahm moved to San Francisco and formed the Honkey Blues Band, then later re-formed the Sir Douglas Quintet with a new lineup. Eventually Augie Meyers rejoined the quintet, and they released the successful single and album Mendocino. The record contained the song "At the Crossroads", with the Sahm line "You just can't live in Texas if you don't have a lot of soul."
Bob Dylan stated, "Look, for me right now there are three groups: Butterfield, The Byrds and the Sir Douglas Quintet."
In 1973, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records bought Sahm's contract and produced his solo debut Doug Sahm and Band, an album featuring Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg, and Flaco Jiménez. "Then in October 1972, Dylan was in the studio with Doug Sahm... Dylan having been friendly with Sahm since the mid-sixties and having expressed enthusiasm for the Sir Douglas Quintet on more than one occasion."
Sahm continued recording both as a solo artist and with the Sir Douglas Quintet. During this period, Sahm also had a couple of minor motion picture roles. In 1972, he and the Quintet appeared with Kris Kristofferson in Cisco Pike, and in 1979 he was featured in More American Graffiti. Sahm was also a sought-after session musician, appearing on releases of other artists, including the Grateful Dead and Willie Nelson.
During 1975 Sahm played a pivotal role in the musical resurgence of fellow Texan Roky Erikson, who had been struggling to survive on the Austin music scene after being released from his infamous period of court-enforced confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Through Craig Luckin, Sahm's San Francisco tour manager at the time, Erikson came to San Francisco and performed a brief four-song set over three nights, backed by Sahm with the reformed Sir Douglas Quintet. Sahm also funded and produced Erikson's first "comeback" single, "Starry Eyes/Two-Headed Dog", for Erikson's new band Bleib Alien (later renamed the Aliens). Sahm had earlier worked with former Creedence Clearwater Revival members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook—Clifford produced and played drums on Groover's Paradise (1974), a Warner Bros. Records release credited to Doug Sahm and the Tex-Mex Trip, on which Cook also played bass—and this in turn led to Cook and Luckin jointly producing The Evil One, the first album by Roky Erikson & the Aliens, whose lineup included guitarist Duane Aslaksen, Sahm’s touring sound mixer and guitar technician at the time. In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau called Groover's Paradise Sahm's "most unambitious music since the days of Together After Five" with the Sir Douglas Quintet.
In 1983, Sahm and Meyers signed with the Swedish Sonet label and made several extensive European tours, which revitalized their careers. The single "Meet Me in Stockholm" from their Midnight Sun LP went platinum and was one of the biggest-selling records ever in Scandinavia. After an accident in 1985, Sahm moved to Canada and then returned to Texas in 1988.
In 1989, Sahm formed the Tex-Mex supergroup, the Texas Tornados, with Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez. The original group recorded seven albums (including two live ones, and a "Best of" collection). Their first album won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance for the song "Soy de San Luis", in 1991. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, besides touring and recording with the Texas Tornados, Sahm also played and recorded with several other bands, including the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Texas Mavericks, the Last Real Texas Blues Band, the Amos Garrett–Doug Sahm–Gene Taylor Band, Doug Sahm & Sons, the Mysterious Sam Dogg and the Cosmic Cowboys, and others, including his last band, the Cherry Ridge Riders. In 1990 Sahm and his sons Shawn and Shandon joined forces to record a powerful version of the 13th Floor Elevators song "You're Gonna Miss Me" for the all-star compilation album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson. Sahm also appears on the 1993 Uncle Tupelo album Anodyne on the song "Give Back the Key to my Heart". Sahm recorded a Grammy-winning solo album, The Last Real Texas Blues Band and recorded with yet another new formation of the Sir Douglas Quintet for SDQ '98.
Sahm died of a heart attack in his sleep in a motel room in Taos, New Mexico, on November 18, 1999. He is buried in Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio.
A posthumous album, The Return of Wayne Douglas, was released in 2000. Sahm's son, Shawn Sahm, continues in his father's footsteps as the leader of his band, Shawn Sahm & the Tex Mex Experience. Father and son appeared together on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1968.
The surviving members of the Texas Tornados (Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez) reunited with Shawn Sahm on the 2010 release Está Bueno. Doug Sahm's other son, Shandon Sahm, played drums for the Meat Puppets from 1999 to 2002 and is their current drummer (as of 2010).
Sahm was honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame. In 2008, he was an inaugural inductee into the Austin Music Memorial.
In 2008, the City of Austin, Texas approved the naming of Doug Sahm Hill, in Butler Metro Park near Lady Bird Lake, in his honor.
In October 2012, a group of musicians—including Dave Alvin, Steve Earle, Delbert McClinton, Boz Scaggs, and Jimmie Vaughan—played a tribute to Sahm at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. The group, performing under the name "Doug Sahm's Phantom Playboys," commemorated Sahm's lasting impact on the Americana music scene by playing several of his songs.
A documentary film, Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, premiered at South by Southwest on March 19, 2015.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: June 2019.
Photo Credits: (1)-(3) Doug Sahm, (4) Flaco Jiménez. (unknown/website).