Born Douglas Wayne Sahm, November 6, 1941, in San Antonio, TX; died of heart disease, November 18, 1999, in Taos, NM; married and divorced; children: sons Shawn and Shandon; daughter Dawn; two stepchildren.
Though best known for the toe-tapping 1965 hit "She's About a Mover" with his early band, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Doug Sahm also helped usher in progressive country and stirred interest in the Tex-Mex sound. His music combined a variety of styles, including Western swing, jazz, country, cajun, rock and roll, rockabilly, and the polka strains of Mexican conjunto bands. And, as a Lebanese American who grew up in a mainly African American area, Sahm was also exposed to the blues, catching Bobby Blue Bland and T-Bone Walker at local venues. Though his popularity quickly waned after the Sir Douglas Quintet's early success, he maintained a small but loyal following and toured incessantly around the globe; he was particularly admired by fellow musicians. In the 1990s, he began attracting critical acclaim for his work with the quartet The Texas Tornados. Sahm was also known in music circles for his outgoing personality, rapid-fire patter, and ceaseless energy. Chris Morris in Billboard stated, "He was one of the most underrated musicians of his generation."
Douglas Wayne Sahm was born on November 6, 1941, in San Antonio, Texas. He made his debut in a children's talent contest on local radio station KMAC, and became a regular for two years. By age 12 he was a prodigy on the steel guitar, and he also played guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. He began to appear with country stars like Hank Williams when their acts came to town. The Grand Ole Opry extended Sahm an invitation before he was even a teenager, but his mother insisted he turn it down. However, as an adolescent he performed on the Louisiana Hayride radio program.
In 1955 Sahm made his recording debut as Little Doug and the Bandits on the honky-tonk single "A Real American Joe." His voice had not even changed by this point. In high school, Sahm led gritty rock groups like the Dell Kings, the Mar-Kays, and the Pharoahs. Six nights a week, he played guitar at San Antonio's Old Tiffany Club, and recorded a string of local hits on a group of labels headed by local businessman E. J. Henke. These cuts were released in 2000 on San Antonio Rock: The Harlem Recordings 1957-1961by the independent label Norton Records out of New York.
Despite his hectic pace, Sahm graduated from Sam Houston High School. In 1959, he saw success with the Little Richard homage "Crazy Daisy," and he followed up with 1961's "Sapphire" and 1964's "If You Ever Need Me." His blues, rhythm-and-blues, and Tex-Mex sound earned him a following around Texas and California.
Meanwhile, Sahm had been urging producer Huey P. Meaux to work with him. In 1964, as the Beatles and Rolling Stones were becoming stateside sensations, Meaux--who had success with Barbara Lynn and Dale and Grace--found his sound to be out of vogue. He reportedly contacted Sahm and shrewdly suggested that the performer grow his hair long and form a group with a faux-British Invasion name and image.
Sahm got together his friends Augie Meyers on keyboards, Frank Morin on saxophone, Harvey Kagan on bass, and Johnny Perez on drums to become the Sir Douglas Quintet. Sahm then wrote an infectious tune with a two-step Cajun rhythm. "She's About a Mover" featured a recurring Vox organ line that recalled a conjunto accordion sound, and it became an international hit, landing in the top twenty on the charts. The band toured the United States with soul legend James Brown, and appeared throughout Europe billed with the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.
Band Dissolved after Big Hit
The success of "She's About a Mover" prompted a brief wave of similar Tex-Mex hits by Question Mark and the Mysterians and Sam the Sham. The Sir Douglas Quintet followed up with another top twenty hit, "The Rains Came," in 1966, but subsequently, the group fizzled when Sahm was arrested for drug possession. He moved to Northern California in 1966 to avoid paying a fine, and there he formed the Honkey Blues Band, which never quite got off the ground.
Before long, Sahm reunited the band in California, minus Meyers, and they gigged regularly at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom. They signed with Mercury Records, and by then were incorporating some of the psychedelic sounds of the area popular at the time. In 1968 Meyer came aboard again, and the band recorded another classic single, "Mendocino," released on an album of the same title. It featured a spoken-word introduction, common to the hippie music of the times, but it was also a precursor to country rock. Subsequently, the Sir Douglas Quintet toured Europe, but "Mendocino" would be their last major hit. They had another album success with Together After Five, but as their music became more experimental, it became less commercially accepted. The group disbanded in the early 1970s.
Later, Sahm released the country single "Be Real" under the name Wayne Douglas. He also did some producing work for blues singer Junior Parker and the Mexican American band Louie and the Lovers, composed of children of migrant workers. He helped them land a deal with Epic Records. After this, Sahm resolved his legal troubles and returned to Texas. There, he cut a country rock album under the name The Return of Doug Saldana, adopting the new surname out of his admiration for Latinos. He told disc jockeys that the cut "Michoacan" was about a state in Mexico, but when they figured out it was a tribute to marijuana use, they curtailed its airtime.
Tried Country Sound
Soon, Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler went to Texas to sign Sahm, figuring that progressive country was going to take off. While there, Wexler also discovered Willie Nelson. In 1973, Sahm released the lively Doug Sahm and Band, which featured Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and accordionist Flaco Jiminez. It included the single "(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone," which got some radio airplay, and in addition, Dylan wrote the song "Wallflower" specifically for the effort.
However, the album did not revive Sahm's career, and he recorded mainly for smaller labels throughout the 1970s. In 1974, he put out another record, Texas Tornado, under the name The Sir Douglas Band, with virtually the same lineup as Doug Sahm and Band. That same year he released Groover's Paradise on Warner Bros. It is considered one of his better efforts and is also notable because it featured Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, the rhythm section from the group Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Also in the 1970s, the Sir Douglas Quintet got back together on occasion and put out a couple of live albums, Wanted Very Much Alive and Back to the 'Dillo, but success again eluded them. Some attributed Sahm's obscurity to his independent streak. "It's the old thing with Texas cats and record companies," Sahm once noted in a Los Angeles Times interview. "It's not that we're hard to work with. I think we're hard to mold." Nevertheless, Sahm lived comfortably on royalty checks.
In the mid-1970s, Sahm brought singer Freddy Fender out of retirement and spearheaded his comeback. He also set up a record label and issued the Roky Erickson cult hit "Two Headed Dog." Also during the 1970s, Sahm was a part of the "cosmic cowboy" scene in Austin, which melded rootsy music with hippie sensibilities and flashy apparel. As a home-grown Texan talent, he began using his state's name in many of his releases and even got a band together called Sir Doug and the Texas Tornados, which put out an album in 1976. He performed often at Austin's counter-culture mecca, Armadillo World Headquarters.
In the meantime, the new wave movement was growing, and acts like Elvis Costello and the Attractions began to rediscover the organ-pumping sounds of 1960s Tex-Mex. Capitalizing on this fad, Sahm gathered his former band, the Sir Douglas Quintet--using his eldest son, Shawn, on guitar--and began touring with The Pretenders. In 1981 the band released Border Wave in order to grab the spotlight as the forefathers of the new wave movement, and throughout the decade they occasionally regrouped. Also, in 1986 Sahm went to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and formed a band called the Formerly Brothers. They released a country and cajun album and it won a Juno Award, Canada's equivalent of a Grammy. In 1989, Sahm collaborated with bluesman Clifford Antone on Juke Box Music.
Wider Acclaim with Texas Tornados
In 1990, Sahm saw his name rise again as part of the Texas Tornados, which he had reunited with Meyers, Jiminez, and Fender. They released The Texas Tornados on Reprise in 1990, and it featured Sahm's clever "What Were You Thinkin' Of?" and Butch Hancock's "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me." The acclaimed album earned them a 1990 Grammy Award for best Mexican American performance for the conjunto single "Soy De San Luis," written by Jiminez's father, Don Santiago Jiminez. In recommending the album to music buyers, David Zimmerman in USA Today described their sound as "sort of Traveling Wilburys-meet-Los Lobos." Sahm was also nominated for a Grammy for the 1995 work The Last Real Texas Blues Band. Another release critics consider essential is 1980's Hell of a Spell, a tribute album to Guitar Slim. It was reissued in 1999.
In 1991 the Texas Tornados issued an all-Spanish album on Warner Bros., and recorded again for Reprise the following year with Hangin' On by a Thread. Though they soon disbanded, they would get together intermittently throughout the decade, issuing the album 4 Aces in 1996 and Live from the Limo in July of 1999. Meanwhile, the Sir Douglas Quintet rode again in 1994 with Day Dreaming at Midnight, this time with Meyers, CCR drummer Clifford, and Sahm's sons Shawn (who cowrote three songs on the effort) and Shandon, who was also playing with the Texas big-hair hard rock outfit Pariah. For this, Sahm strayed from his Tex-Mex sound into a more rootsy alternative style evocative of the original band's mid-1960s garage band feel but with heavier guitars. It attracted mixed reviews
On November 18, 1999, Sahm, age 58, was found dead in a room at the Kachina Lodge in Taos, New Mexico, where he was vacationing. Later it was determined he had died of heart disease. Just two weeks before his death, Sahm had finished a new country-rock album. It was released in 2000 with the title The Return of Wayne Douglas on the independent Tornado label, where Sahm served as head of the artists and repertoire department.
by Geri Koeppel
Doug Sahm's Career
Began singing and playing steel guitar as a child; made recording debut, "A Real American Joe," Sarg, 1955; formed Sir Douglas Quintet, 1964, and released hit "She's About a Mover" on album The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet, Sundazed, 1965; signed with Atlantic Records, 1973, and issued album also featuring Bob Dylan and Dr. John; with Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jiminez, formed Texas Tornados, 1976 (disbanded and reformed, 1990) and released The Texas Tornados on Reprise, 1990; formed Formerly Brothers, 1986; posthumously released The Return of Wayne Douglas, 2000.
Doug Sahm's Awards
(With Formerly Brothers) Juno Award (Canada), 1986; (With Texas Tornados) Grammy Award for best Mexican American performance for "Soy De San Luis," 1990.
- Selected discography
- With the Sir Douglas Quintet
- The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet , Sundazed, 1965.
- Live Love (import), Edsel, 1965.
- Texas Fever , Aim Records, 1965.
- Mendocino , Smash, 1968.
- The Tracker (import), Diablo, 1977.
- Wanted Very Much Alive (live).
- Back to the 'Dillo (live), Edsel, 1980.
- Border Wave , Takoma, 1981.
- Live Texas Tornado , Takoma, 1983.
- Day Dreaming at Midnight , Elektra, 1994.
- Quintessence , Varrick, 1995.
- The Prime of Sir Douglas Quintet , Music Club Records, 1999.
- The Crazy Cajun Recordings (import), Edsel, 1999.
- The Sir Douglas Quintet is Back! , Sundazed, 2000.
- Soul Jam , Classic World Productions, Inc., 2000.
- Doug Sahm with others
- (As Doug Saldana) The Return of Doug Saldana , 1971.
- (As Doug Sahm and Band) Doug Sahm and Band , Atlantic, 1973.
- Groover's Paradise , Warner Bros., 1974.
- Sir Doug and the Texas Tornados , 1976.
- Hell of a Spell , Takoma, 1980.
- Live (import), Bear Family, 1988.
- Juke Box Music , Antone's, 1989.
- The Best of Doug Sahm & Friends: Atlantic Sessions , Rhino Records, 1993.
- The Last Real Texas Blues Band , Antone's, 1995.
- SDQ '98 , Watermelon, 1998.
- She's About a Mover--The Best Of (import), Edsel, 1999.
- (As Wayne Douglas) The Return of Wayne Douglas , Tornado, 2000.
- San Antonio Rock: The Harlem Recordings 1957-1961 , Norton, 2000.
- With Texas Tornados
- The Texas Tornados , Reprise, 1990.
- Zone of Our Own , Reprise, 1991.
- Los Texas Tornados (Spanish), Warner Bros., 1991.
- Hangin' On by a Thread , Reprise, 1992.
- The Best of the Texas Tornados , Reprise, 1994.
- 4 Aces , Reprise, 1996.
- Live from the Limo, Volume 1 (live), Virgin, 1999.
- Romanowksi, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, editors, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 1995.
- Audio, July 1994, p. 74.
- Billboard, December 4, 1999; April 1, 2000, p. 88; June 3, 2000, p. 88.
- Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1995, p. 4; November 20, 1999, p. 23.
- New York Times, November 22, 1999, p. A25.
- People, February 14, 1994, p. 19; August 5, 1996, p. 23.
- Rolling Stone, January 7, 1993, p. 54; September 8, 1994, p. 80; August 8, 1996, p. 62; July 6, 2000, p. 140.
- San Antonio Express-News, July 18, 2000, p. D1.
- Stereo Review, May 1994, p. 82; May 1995, p. 86; November 1996, p. 130.
- USA Today, October 24, 1994, p. 6D.
- "Doug Sahm," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 1, 2000).
- "Doug Sahm," Sonicnet web site, http://www.sonicnet.com (September 1, 2000).
- "He's About a Mover," April 1974, "Beyond the Blues," April 1989, "Doug Deep," February 1993, and "We Remember," January 2000, Texas Monthly, http://www.texasmonthly.com (September 1, 2000).