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Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet

By Benson Knickerbocker

San Antone rocker Doug Sahm is best known for gracing the cover of Rolling Stone on two different occasions during the 1960s-1970s . He was also known for his blend of Texas blues, country, rock & roll, Western swing and Cajun on the 1973 album Doug Sahm and Band which also featured Bob Dylan, David Bromberg and Dr. John. In recent years, he gained further attention with his 80s group, The Texas Tornados, which won a Grammy Award in 1991. What many of today’s non baby boomers or Texas natives don’t realize is that Doug Sahm was the front man for the 1960s group, the Sir Douglas Quintet. To any fan of Fillmore West poster art, the name will be no stranger as the Sir Douglas Quintet was a frequent visitor San Francisco’s Haight area. Just like so many of his 1960s –1970s contemporaries, the Sir Douglas Quintet was mirrored themselves after the Beatles. Similar to bands like Yes, David Bowie, the Grateful Dead and many others, Doug Sahm was involved with a band that played in the spirit of the Beatles R&B influenced pop, but also added a bit of their own flavor. In the case of Doug Sahm, it was the Beatles meet Tex-Mex and the band was the Sir Douglas Quintet. It was a pattern shared by the Byrds and Burrito Brothers – combining country with the British invasion. The biggest problem with these mop toppers from San Antonio was that they could not pass themselves off as Brits – the combination of Texas drawls and Hispanic band members did not fool anybody.

By the time Sahm formed the Sir Douglas Quintet with organist Augie Meyers, bassist Jack Barber, saxophonist Frank Morin, and drummer Johnny Perez, he was a veteran of the music industry. As "Little Doug Sahm", he made his radio debut at age five singing "Teardrops In My Heart" on station KMAC in San Antonio and played at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry before the age of nine. Beginning at age eleven, Doug released a number of singles on various local record labels, his first being "A Real American Joe" and "Rollin' Rollin'" for Sarg Records. He also fronted several bands during his high school years, including the Pharaohs, the Dell-Kings, and the Markays. Through all of these years of playing, Sahm became a master of the steel guitar as well as the fiddle, mandolin and guitar.

In 1964, Sahm formed the Sir Douglas Quintet with longtime friend Augie Meyers. With the help of a Houston record company owner named Huey Meaux –the "Crazy Cajun," the Sir Douglas Quintet released the song, "She’s A Mover", which quickly launched to the top of the charts and gave the band instant fame. The success of "She’s A Mover" led the Sir Douglas Quintet to sharing a U.S. tour with James Brown, and a European tour on the same bill as The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. One of their other tunes, "It’s A Man Down There" may be familiar to any fans of the Allman Brothers as the tune is a variation of the their "One Way Out". Other tunes to arise from these years were "The Rains Came" and "Bacon Fat" which also achieved popular and critical appraise. Thanks to the great reissue company, Sundazed (www. sundazed.com), much of the music from the earliest incarnations of the Sir Douglas Quintet are available on CD. The label recently released The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet and The Sir Douglas Quintet is Back, which covers all of the band recordings from 1964-1966.

 

Soon after these recordings, the Sir Douglas Quintet that is heard on these two CDs broke up. The band could not survive the newfound fame and the onslaught of the drug crazed 1960s. Following a minor arrest for marijuana possession at the Corpus Christi airport, Sahm left Texas for San Francisco in March 1966. Sahm moved to California where he reformed the Sir Douglas Quintet and wrote another slew of popular songs, most notable, 1969’s "Mendocino". Instead of singing about the Texas that he loved; sunny California was on Sahm’s mind. During his time in California Sahm also appeared in the 1972 film Cisco Pike  (with Kris Kristofferson) and 1979’s More American Graffitti. In 1983, Sahm and longtime friend and fellow Sir Douglas Quintet founder Augie Meyers moved to Europe and penned the hit "Meet Me In Stockholm". In 1989, Sahm and Meyers returned to Texas and formed Texas Tornadoes who recorded a total of six albums and eventually won a Grammy.

On November 20, 1999 Doug Sahm died of a heart attack, two weeks after celebrating his 58th birthday. In those short years, Sahm rose from little child prodigy to rock and roll star and drug exile and ultimately returning hero. Thanks to Sundazed Records, a specific period of Sahm’s life is captured on CD. The mid 1960s were an innocent time for rock and rollers. After the success of the Beatles, everyone wanted to be a rock and roll star. In garages from LA to NYC to New Orleans to Tulsa, teens were playing loud and raw R&B in hopes of making the big time. As a child, Doug Sahm had already lived the life of a star but he still felt the allure. Unlike so many of those garage bands, Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet were able to write a hit and get out of their hometown. These discs chronicle those years.