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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The rather wonderful Doug Sahm died ten years ago today. It's my prejudice that people who talk up the dreary playing on Together Through Life should do themselves the favour of listening to Doug Sahm & Band. It's so beautifully loose and alive, so full and generous spirited and fun. Anyway, here's Doug's entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Sahm, Doug [1941 - 1999]
Douglas Wayne Sahm was born on November 6, 1941 in a predominantly black section of San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up. He was of German and Irish descent, not, as often reported, of Lebanese. A steel-guitar, mandolin and fiddle prodigy, he sang on radio at age five and by eight he was a regular on the Louisiana Hayride radio show, billed as Little Doug Sahm. Just weeks before HANK WILLIAMS’ death, he brought Doug on stage with him in Austin.

He heard many live blues and country musicians as he grew up and by 13 knew the records of HOWLIN’ WOLF, FATS DOMINO and JIMMY REED. His mother wouldn’t let him accept an offer to join the Grand Ole Opry but he did start making records for local labels - starting with the 78rpm as well as 45rpm release ‘A Real American Joe’ c/w ‘Rollin’, Rollin’’, made when he was 11 but released in 1955 - and fronting local bands while still in high school.

It was the British invasion and the BEATLES that led to producer Huey P. Meaux, with whom Sahm had been pushing to record, to commission Sahm to get a group together, write a song with a Cajun two-step beat (Meaux thought the Beatles’ hits had the same on-the-beat formula), grow his hair long and come back to the studio. Hence the supposedly British-sounding name the Sir Douglas Quintet, and hence ‘She’s About A Mover’, recorded in January 1965 and an immediate massive hit, which Bob Dylan was quick to praise.

In March 1966, arrested in Texas for possession of marijuana, Sahm moved to San Francisco for five years, there recording the album Mendocino and others, to increasingly little effect; but in 1972 Sahm and the group appeared in the movie Cisco Pike with KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (its soundtrack featuring his ‘Michoacán’) and that October JERRY WEXLER bought him out of his record deal, brought him to Atlantic and to New York, rescuing him from the doldrums and producing the album Doug Sahm & Band, one of the most charming albums ever made, Sahm’s lazy but perky voice one ingredient in a fond fusion of loose yet sinewy Tex-Mex country-rock music on which Bob Dylan appeared on a number of tracks in a variety of mostly self-effacing minor rôles. The whole thing sounded as if it were being played in your parlour, yet also sounded the unarguable laid-back prototype for the Austin Sound that was so successful later that decade.

Doug Sahm himself plays guitar, piano and bajo sexto on the album; other players include Dr. John, DAVE BROMBERG, Flaco Jiménez, AUGIE MEYERS and Dave ‘Fathead’ Newman. On the expansive, chunky opening track ‘(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone’ Dylan sings harmony vocals and plays guitar; on ‘It’s Gonna Be Easy’ and ‘Faded Love’ he plays organ and on ‘Poison Love’ guitar; on his own composition ‘Wallflower’ he sings lead vocals and plays guitar, on ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’ he shares vocals and plays guitar, and on ‘Me and Paul’ he plays guitar and harmonica. The outtakes - some released in 1992 on Doug Sahm & Friends, and all released in 2003 on the set The Genuine Texas Groover - were ‘On The Banks of the Old Pontchartrain’, ‘Hey Good Lookin’, ‘Mr. Sandman’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ (all with Dylan on guitar), ‘COLUMBUS STOCKADE BLUES’ and ‘The Blues Walked In’ (Dylan on piano and organ) and ‘Tennessee Blues’, with Dylan on harmonica. The original album was finally re-issued on CD on Hallowe’en 2006.

Nothing much happened for Doug Sahm as a result of the original album release, in December 1972, and Atlantic persevered with his career no more than Mercury before it, though his fanbase in Texas remained ardent. He drifted through the rest of the 1970s, playing guitar on RICK DANKO’s eponymously-titled solo album of 1977 and appearing in the film More American Graffiti in 1979. In 1983, with long-time musical compadre Augie Meyers, he signed to Swedish label Sonet, enjoying one of the biggest hit singles in Scandinavian history with ‘Meet Me In Stockholm’, from their album Midnight Sun, and touring Europe recurrently until in 1985 he moved to Canada, where he formed a new band with Amos Garrett. Three years later he finally returned to Texas, recording for a small Austin label and after various touring configurations with others, he joined the Texas Tornados - intended as a Tex-Mex Travelin’ Wilburys - along with Meyers, Flaco Jiminez and Freddie Fender. They made seven albums plus The Best of Texas Tornados, the last being a live album made in Austin 11 months before his death. However, in tandem with the Texas Tornados (also the name of a Houston volleyball team), Sahm re-formed the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1994 with two sons.

On August 24, 1988, shortly before Sahm quit Canada, Bob Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour, then only 10 weeks old, played Edmonton, Alberta. TRACY CHAPMAN came on for the encore number ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ and that must have seemed to the audience the end-of-evening surprise. But topping that, Doug Sahm was brought onstage and, backed by Dylan and his band, finally got to sing ‘She’s About A Mover’ to its prominent admirer, 23 years after he’d first heard it. The two men’s final conjunction came another seven years on, when the Never-Ending Tour was back in Texas and on their second and final night in Austin, on November 5, 1995, Doug Sahm graced the stage one more time, playing guitar on ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, ‘Never Gonna Be The Same Again’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Alabama Getaway’, and the final number of the night, ‘Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 & 35’. At the end of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, on which Sahm also shared vocals, he said to the audience: ‘Austin, Texas, do we love this dude or what! He’s the greatest! I’m telling you man, I’ve got to say it. And tomorrow’s my birthday and tomorrow this year will be thirty years this man’s been a beautiful friend of mine and I love him. I wish everybody in the world could know him like I do. I love this dude. Thank you, Austin, Texas! Thank you Bob Dylan!’

It was indeed Sahm’s 55th birthday next day. Soon after his 58th, Doug Sahm died of a heart attack while on holiday in Taos, New Mexico, on November 18, 1999.

[Little Doug: ‘Real American Joe’ b/w ‘Rollin, Rollin’’, nia, Sarg 113, US, 1955. The Sir Douglas Quintet: ‘She’s About A Mover’, Texas, 15 Jan 1965, Tribe 8308, US, 1965. Doug Sahm: Doug Sahm & Band, NY, Oct 1972, Atlantic SD-7254, US, 1972, CD re-release Collector’s Choice, US, 2006; Doug Sahm & Friends, Rhino R2 71032, US, 1992; The Genuine Texas Groover, Atlantic/Rhino RHM2 7845, US, 2003. The Texas Tornados: The Best of Texas Tornados, Reprise 45511-2, US, 1994. Career rundown based largely on Joseph Levy’s ‘Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet: A Brief History’, online 3 Dec 2005 at]


Blogger JK said...

Dear Mr. Gray,

thanks a lot for reminding. I always loved Doug Sahm's music. This record "Doug Sahm & Band" was one of the first I bought back then & it's still one of my favourites.

By the way, today is also the 100th birthday of Johnny Mercer, one of America's greatest & most important songwriters (or better: lyricists) He wrote for example the lyrics to "Moon River", one of Bob Dylan's favourite songs (according to Chronicles; performed live by Dylan in 1990 for Stevie Ray Vaughn).

All The Best


8:53 pm  
Blogger gdash said...


When Doug was living in Canada he wrote and recorded a song I wish had become the national anthem, "Louis Riel".

Have you seen the Sir Douglas performance of the Kinks' "Who'll Be the Next in Line" on YouTube? It kicks, and Doug does a funny and sweet, if unconvincing, impersonation of Jagger circa 1972, scarf and all.

Graham Ashmore

10:53 pm  

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