The Texas Groover

Doug Sahm

“You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.”-Doug Sahm

The first time I ever heard the music of Doug Sahm it was on a box set of one hit wonders of 60’s garage rock. It featured a hit from his band, The Sir Douglas Quintet. I would only find out years later that the genre busting career of Sir Doug could not be described in the allotted 2:25 seconds given to him on that box set.

Doug Sahm meeting Hank Williams at age 11

Doug Sahm (1941-1999) was a multi-instrumentalist/recording artist from San Antonio. He was drawn to music at a young age and quickly became a steel guitar prodigy.

On December 19, 1952, at eleven years old, he played on stage with Hank Williams Sr. at the Skyline Club in Austin in what would be Hank’s last show before his death two weeks later.

Next, the Grand Ole Opry offered Doug Sahm a spot, but his mother refused to let him go, wanting him to finish school instead. Doug continued to play clubs in Texas and in 1965, started his first successful band, The Sir Douglas Quintet. This mostly rock band came up with their name in an attempt to capitalize on the British Invasion despite their thick Texan accents and the fact that two of them were Hispanic. Their top hit, “She’s About a Mover” reached the U.S. Top 20.

Doug Sahm went solo in 1972 and released his first album Doug Sahm & Band in 1973, featuring many members of the Sir Douglas Quintet along with Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and the accordion playing Flaco Jimenez, “the father of Conjunto music”. In the 70’s and 80’s, Sahm went on several tours of the U.S. and Europe, gaining a significant following in Scandinavia.

He started the Tex-Mex super group, The Texas Tornados in 1989 with Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jimenez. Their music mostly featured the country music of Texas and Northern Mexico. They won a Grammy for their first album Texas Tornados which hit #25 on the U.S. Country album charts.

Throughout his career, Doug Sahm also played on other people’s work, most notably appearing on Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt albums.

On November 18, 1999, Doug Sahm died of a heart attack in New Mexico. Although this was a heavy loss, his band mates eventually reformed the Texas Tornados adding Doug’s son, Shawn as a member.

sahm-big-red-lonestar1The thing that draws me to Doug Sahm is his ability to create music that is in my point of view authentic while still being able to cross over genres consistently. He started out playing country as a kid and later adopted rhythm & blues, rock, and Tex-Mex eventually blending them all in his work. He said himself, “I’m a part of Willie Nelson’s world and at the same time I’m a part of the Grateful Dead’s.”

I personally discovered each of these phases separately. I heard the tejano rock of “She’s About a Mover” in middle school when I still mostly listened to rock music. I remember starting to listen to his more country oriented solo work when my friends and I were moving into our apartments in college. After a long day of moving in the August heat, we all collapsed on a couch and listened to Doug Sahm & Band. The next summer, at the end of a road trip to North Carolina one of my friends blasted a Texas Tornados album from the car outside of a run down carwash in Durham. We were exhausted from days of driving but as the last notes of “Una Mas Cerveza” wafted through the air we were reminded that it was time to head back home to Texas.


Filed under Country Rock, Texas

2 Responses to The Texas Groover

  1. Erin McWilliams

    Wow, what a versatile guy! I love learning about new artists (new to me, anyway) and their rise to fame. It’s so interesting that he didn’t get his start in country music… even more interesting that he was featured on a Grateful Dead album. Not many artists can say that they fluctuated from hard rock to tejano country music in a lifetime. It’s amazing that he can gather a following in one band, then create a whole new band and have an even bigger following! I agree with you, he definitely sounds authentic. His quote about needing soul to live in Texas clearly translates into his work.

  2. Paige Hinkle

    I’d definitely heard songs by the Texas Tornados before and loved their songs, but I didn’t realized that Doug Sahm had such a versatile career. The video of the Sir Douglas Quintet definitely looks and sounds like it was influenced by the Beatles. The sound is so different from the Tex-Mex sound of the Texas Tornados. I always loved that the songs incorporated Spanish words. It always felt like an essential element of Texas culture. I forget that not everybody knows basic Spanish like “Que paso?” and “una cerveza”. Part of the reason many people know these phrases is because of popular songs from bands like the Texas Tornados. And not to mention that Sahm conquered other genres equally as well with the same Texan twang.

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