Doug Sahm SXSW documentary and concert for all his beautiful friends
"You can't make this shit up!"
Writer Joe Nick Patoski marvels at the end result of his debut documentary, Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. In tackling the expansive life and border-crossing sound of the San Antonio-born rocker, the film makes a granite case for Doug Sahm as the essential Texas musician. Here, Patoski posits, remains a native son who imprinted rock & roll not once, but over and over, yet appears destined to remain a footnote in American music.
Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove captures Sahm's greased lightning in a Lone Star beer bottle.
As a child, "Little Doug" played guitar, fiddle, and predominantly steel guitar, and as the film arcs into his teens Sahm started playing with black musicians on the east side, brown ones on the west side, and crafted a string of late-Fifties regional pearls like "Why Why Why" and "Two Hearts in Love."
At the suggestion of notorious producer Huey Meaux, he and another lanky Texan, keyboard player Augie Meyers, formed the Sir Douglas Quintet, whose Beatlesque "She's About a Mover" slyly introduced Tex-Mex rock in famously faux British drag. Arguably the most ethnically complex entry into 1965 rock & roll, the song two-stepped the group up the national charts. Meyers' Vox Continental organ tattooed the band's groove.
"People asked us, 'How'd y'all get that sound?'" recalls Meyers from San Antonio. "We said, 'We just got together and played.' I needed an amplifier, so I bought an amp with reverb. That became our sound, but it wasn't like we planned it."
A marijuana bust derailed the Quintet and in 1966 shuttled Sahm to California for several years, inspiring his 1969 hit, "Mendocino." The rhythmic cadence of acoustic guitar and Sahm's laid-back intro marked the song as a precursor of the cosmic cowboy movement and its hippie trappings: "Sir Douglas Quintet is back and we'd like to thank all our beautiful friends all over the country for all the beautiful vibrations."
Like so many Sahm songs, "Mendocino" was autobiographical. That's where Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove gets nitty-gritty.
By 1969, Sahm was father to three children with wife Violet, and stepfather to her three children. When the patriarch embraced the land of raw milk and organic honey, encouraging his Texan wife to liberate herself, Violet gamely stuck it out for a few years before packing the kids up for Texas. In a somewhat unsettling scene, a reel-to-reel tape recorder preserves Violet in honeyed tones issuing a stark, personal taunt to leave her rocker husband and find herself a cowboy.
Sahm returned to Texas in the early Seventies, and ultimately the two divorced. He soon migrated up to Austin, eventually forming the first Spanish-language supergroup with Meyers, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jimenez, the Grammy-winning Texas Tornados.
"We're at a point where lots of folks have forgotten Doug and his music," Patoski suggests, "but at the same time, his sounds are in the air more than ever. Whether it's old-school traditionalists like Los Lobos or new kids on the block such as Gary Clark Jr., Doug broke down barriers so others could break down even more barriers."
Patoski understands both eras, beginning with Dallas-Fort Worth's righteous scene in the Sixties where he spent his teenhood. In the following two decades, Patoski became one of Texas' most respected music journalists, producing a series of definitive biographies on Lone Star icons Selena, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and even the Dallas Cowboys. Despite full cooperation from the Sahm family and unlike his decades of reportage, he admits that endless hours of archive material had to be edited out of Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.
"The priority was film and video, then photos and audio, especially of Doug telling his own story, which he didn't do often because he wasn't much of a navel gazer," says Patoski. "He'd always be talking about what was to come, not what was in the past."
And nothing tells Sahm's story like his music.
"Even now, when me and Shawn [Sahm] get up there and sing with the Tornados," relates Meyers, "when he's doing a Doug song and I got my eyes closed, my neck hair stands up because I think it's Doug singin'. When I hear the Quintet music, I feel like I'm 20 years old again."
Doug Sahm chased a groove the way most people chase rainbows, only he caught it. That makes the ultimate pot of gold for Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove to finally make the case for its subject's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After all, similar justice was served by the Grammys last month.
"Flaco just got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys," Meyers brags of his Texas Tornados bandmate. "Someone called and asked me what I thought about it. I said, 'It's about time!'"
Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove: A Gathering of the TribesParamount Theatre, Saturday, March 21, 7:30pm
House Band: Michael Ramos, Charlie Sexton, Denny Freeman, Mike Buck, Jack Barber, Julie Christenson
7:30 Freda & the Firedogs
8:05 Freddie Krc
8:10 David & Hector Saldana (Krayolas)
8:15 Patricia Vonne
8:20 Rosie Flores
8:25 Terry Allen
8:35 Bill Kirchen
8:40 West Side Horns (Al Gomez, Louie Bustos, Henry Rivas)
8:50 C.C. Adcock
9:15 Robert Rodriguez & Chingon, with Steven Van Zandt
9:20 Charlie Sexton
9:30 Steve Earle
9:40 Texas Tornados, with Shandon Sahm, Joe "King" Carrasco, Westside Horns
10:20 Roy Head & Westside Horns
Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove makes its world premiere at SXSW Film Thu., March 19, 7:30pm at the Paramount Theatre. Its concert tie-in returns to the Paramount on Saturday. See inset for lineup and times.