Doug Sahm is a man whose role in Texas Music is not to be underestimated. Combining blues and country with the sounds of the Mexican music he heard growing up in San Antonio, Sahm was a fountain of music who died at 52 as one of the pillars of Tex-Mex music. Considered a child prodigy on the mandolin, steel guitar and fiddle, he made his debut on the Texas airwaves at age five. Taking the name Little Doug Sahm, by age eight he was a featured player on country radio mainstay Louisiana Hayride and sharing stages with many of the honky-tonk heroes of the day, including Webb Pierce and Hank Williams. By his teens, Sahm had been offered a regular gig on The Grand Ol’ Opry but had to refuse when his parents insisted he finish school. He met lifelong friend and musical foil Augie Myers soon afterward. The two left their respective bands to assemble The Sir Douglas Quintet at the behest of local producer Huey P. Meaux. Growing their hair and adopting a Cajun two-step beat, TSDQ was Meaux’s stab at trying to capitalize on The British Invasion that was sweeping the U.S. at the time. The result was the huge 1965 hit “She’s About A Mover”.
An inopportune marijuana bust the following year stopped the Quintet’s momentum and prompted Sahm to hightail it to San Francisco just as The Summer Of Love was about to burst into bloom. Ever the musical sponge, Sahm absorbed the Haight-Ashbury vibes, playing with The Grateful Dead and releasing a number of successful solo records before returning to Texas in the early 70s. Ever the wanderer, he spent time in Sweden and Canada before returning to Texas in the early 80s with the idea to form a Tex-Mex version of The Traveling Wilburys. Texas titans Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez joined Sahm and Meyers to form The Texas Tornadoes, a unit that came to be one of the most successful Texas bands ever. In his later years he formed a new version of The Sir Doug Quintet with his sons and even released a straight R&B record before dying unexpectedly from a 1999 heart attack while vacationing in New Mexico.
Sahm’s passing left a huge hole in Texas music, whether it be Tejano, R&B, Blues or some combination of the three. His life and music have been celebrated since his passing through regular SxSW tributes and posthumous releases like The Return Of Wayne Douglas and in 2002 St. Louis roots rockers The Bottle Rockets released an entire record of Sir Doug covers on Bloodshot entitled Songs Of Sahm. November 2009 will mark the 10th anniversary of his passing. To commemorate his life and body of work, Vanguard Records has released Keep Your Soul: A Tribute To Doug Sahm. Rarely has there been a better mix of contemporaries and collaborators. Greg Dulli makes an unexpected appearance with a stellar (yet creepy) take on “You Was For Real”. Los Lobos and Terry Allen are among those representing for the non-Texas set, but it’s his Lone Star cronies that really shine here. Alejandro Escovedo takes a great turn with his version of “Too Little, Too Late”, but the hands-down best cover here is Jimmie Vaughn and his take on “Why, Why, Why”. Vaughn captures the laid-back Austin intensity like few can, nailing the sound and the vibe to make sweet love to your ears like he was Joe Tex himself.
While Sahm was much beloved by fans and friends, his musical family always came first. They give the love right back on Keep Your Soul. Tejano accordion legend and former Texas Tornado bandmate, Flaco Jimenez held an historic session in the beginning of this year, drafting in Doug’s son Shandon and Augie Myers along with Sahm sidemen West Side Horns to re-record an incendiary take on the Tornadoes chestnut “Ta Bueno Compadre (It’s Ok Friend)”. Joe ‘King Carrasco’ also ropes in Los Tornados to do “Adios Mexico” before Shawn Sahm closes things with a faithful turn on “Mendocino”. All are fitting tributes to one of the finest purveyors of what Gram Parsons called The Cosmic American Music. Whether you enjoy Doug Sahm with The Sir Douglas Quintet, as a Texas Tornado or through his solo career, Keep Your Soul: A Tribute To Doug Sahm is a fine complement to the body of work from one of America’s greatest musical treasures.