It's a Hippie Thing

Soul Brother No.1

Bob Dylan and Sahm, 1973
Bob Dylan and Sahm, 1973

I first met Doug Sahm at Soap Creek Saloon in the late Seventies, so for the next 20 years he referred to me as "Jody Soap Creek." Beyond the fact that I -- like so many others -- cannot believe he's gone, I think of all the things I will miss about him. First and foremost, I will miss hearing Doug's music in concert and watching him conduct a band. Whether Doug was playing blues, country, rock, jazz, Tex-Mex -- whatever style, he was a natural. (Although the reggae on Hell of a Spell was a bit of a stretch!) Doug was Austin's Neil Young -- a restless spirit but a true and real one. Musically, he made it look easy, just like the best baseball players. And as most of Doug's friends knew, baseball was one of his prime passions. After I heard the first rumor that Doug Sahm was gone, I called his house hoping he would answer and put this silliness to rest. For one final time, I heard that message he had for years about milking the cows. I simply said, "Doug, I hope you're around!" I meant it in the broadest sense. He is -- but he's not.

I will also miss Doug's unending enthusiasm for his work and life in general. Every time Doug had a new project hatching, he would show up at the radio station unannounced to talk about it -- and to say how this time he had something special -- whether it was the latest incarnation of the Sir Douglas Quintet, a dance remix of the Texas Tornados, or his "Get a Life" single with the Gourds. He always had something special brewing that needed to be introduced to Austin with a splash. I think it was a selfless passion -- he really just wanted to share the magic he felt.

Bob Dylan and Sahm, 1973
Bob Dylan and Sahm, 1973

Doug always said to me that "us old-timers," i.e., old-time Austinites, had to stick together in the face of a rapidly changing city that was no longer "Groover's Paradise." The Austin of the Nineties didn't always seem to prize the things he held special: a tightly knit community, good baseball games, soul over money, Bob Dylan, perhaps a smoke and a beer. And once the heat arrived, he headed north. I think a lot of us were jealous he could roam when he wanted to. He certainly earned his freedom.

When Doug re-emerged on the Antone's label with Jukebox Music, I spent a lot of time with him as I was writing an article for Texas Monthly about the new disc and Doug's relationship with Clifford Antone. The album was brilliant. Jerry Wexler, the legendary producer and his old buddy from Atlantic Records, praised it, and it got played on the radio, bringing Doug to (yet another) new audience. He was jazzed about his new blues.

Last Thursday in the late afternoon, after the rumors of Doug's death became more persistent, I called Clifford Antone at home, and he answered the phone. I had 15 seconds left in the commercial before I had to open the microphone, so I asked Clifford if he could talk to me on the air about Doug. He said he could, and proceeded to break the sad news to me and our listeners at the same time, confirming that he had spoken with Doug's girlfriend and one of his sons, and that the news of his death was true. I can't remember a sadder moment.

Doug Sahm and the Gourds at the Electric Lounge January 22, 1999.
Doug Sahm and the Gourds at the Electric Lounge January 22, 1999. (Photo By John Carrico)

Earlier that day, the first copies of KGSR's Broadcasts Vol. 7 had arrived, and ironically it features Doug and the Texas Tornados on the cover. All throughout the day, I had been looking at Doug's smiling face behind black shades and a tie-dyed shirt that read, "It's a hippie thing -- you wouldn't understand." Doug was smiling in the photo. Thank God he always will be.

Suddenly, our photos and records and CDs of Doug take on a new intensity -- as if that were possible! Last Thursday night after getting the news, several of us visited with Clifford Antone at his club. After tears and hugs, he asked me for a copy of the photo that ran in the Texas Monthly article. It captured their vibrant friendship at its outset, one that had just become a memory a lot quicker than he could have imagined. We all want to hold on to the bits of Doug that make us happy. Thankfully there's a lot of them.

Sure, Doug could be exhausting. He had so much energy he made you feel weak. He'd run up and talk to you rapid-fire, cupping his mouth so you would get the news and not the weather. But he had so much love. I told someone that the first dance at my wedding was to a Doug Sahm song, and that he was one of my best friends. She said, "Jody, Doug was everyone's best friend."

Doug was soul brother No. 1. Onstage with Bob Dylan a few years ago at the Austin Music Hall, he pointed to Bob and said, "Austin, do we love this man or what?!" I hope Doug knew that we loved him just as much. Doug Sahm was that bunny running on those Energizer batteries. We thought he would never run down. end story

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More by Jody Denberg
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Doug Sahm, Clifford Antone, Broadcasts Vol. 7, Texas Tornados, Sir Douglas Quintet, JerryWexler, Juke Box Music, KGSR

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