Austin American Statesman

Austin 360 Home

Austin 360 News
Breaking headlines
Interactive features
Current Weather

Weekly Sections
Thursday: XLent
Friday: Movies
Friday: Technopolis
Sunday: Insight
Sunday: Travel

Past issues

Editorial services
Contact our   newsroom
News staff

Other services
Other Departments


Fittingly, a happy note on a sad day

By Michael Corcoran
American-Statesman Staff
Wednesday, November 24, 1999

SAN ANTONIO --The crowd was so large that about a third of the estimated 1,000 on hand had to huddle around an overwhelmed loudspeaker outside. But even more impressive than the turnout at Doug Sahm's funeral Tuesday was the way the mourners cut across all lines of age, race and social standing.

Not only was just about every Austin and San Antonio music veteran on hand, but those who came to pay their respects included bikers, field workers in their best pair of jeans, club owners, music executives and fans from as far away as Holland and Canada. They wore black cowboy hats and Chicago Cubs caps in homage to the cosmic cowboy whose passion for life was infectious. And when they approached the coffin, after waits as long as an hour and a half, they touched the trademark black hat that Sahm still wore and slipped in little gifts -- guitar picks, joints, poems -- to be buried forever with the Texas music legend who, at 58, succumbed to heart disease Thursday in a hotel room in Taos, N.M. 

"Look all around," said Sahm's older brother, Victor, one of four family members to speak at the funeral in northeast San Antonio, Sahm's hometown. "It was one man who brought you all together."

Gov. George W. Bush was among those (including Willie Nelson and Sahm's former Texas Tornados bandmate Freddy Fender) who phoned in regrets. The governor's representatives told Sahm's son, Shawn Sahm, that he wanted to attend but that he was afraid his appearance would be a distraction. 

With the focus firmly on Sahm and all the things the singer and guitarist stood for, it's unlikely the governor would have registered even a double-take. This day, which ended with a jam session at the Laboratory Brewing Company nightclub, was reserved for a musician who stayed vital through five decades, helping to define a music scene in Austin and showing that blues, conjunto, rock, Cajun and country could coexist beautifully -- as long as they're played with soul.

Shawn Sahm broke up the somber occasion with hilarious stories that earned nods of recognition from the audience. "You could never get ahold of Dad. He got hold of you," Shawn said. He described his father as a man of many fervent interests, especially baseball.

"When we were driving around and my father saw the illumination of a baseball field a couple miles away, us kids knew we were gonna be there for a while," he recounted. "Dad would pull up to the diamond and right away he'd be telling everyone how to play."

Shawn, a musician who often played with his father in recent years, told of the time he took his dad to a Metallica concert. "I'm the oldest one here," Doug exclaimed, to which Shawn answered, "Yeah, Dad, but you're the hippest." 

The hipster, whose first hit was with his faux-British Sir Douglas Quintet, wouldn't have liked the way the services began, with the funeral director's cell phone going off in mid-announcement, then a cheesy oldies radio station piping in music. The station had planned to make a special on-air announcement at 3:45 pm. But because the viewing took so long, the timing was off, and a weather report, followed by a hit by another artist, came out over the p.a. instead.

Country singer Lee Roy Parnell led the movement in the crowd to can the radio tie-in. After all, with the exception of "She's About a Mover," "The Rains Came" and "Mendocino" in the '60s with the Quintet and "(Hey Baby) Que Paso" in the '90s with the Texas Tornados, Sahm's gritty vocals were rarely heard on the airwaves.

"My father always said that you either got it or you didn't," Shawn said. And hundreds who got Doug Sahm nodded in agreement. 

After the services at Sunset Funeral Home let out and Sahm's body was moved to be buried next to his father and mother in a private ceremony at an adjacent cemetery, many of those on hand milled in the parking lot and told their own Sahm stories.

"There was no such thing as failure in his life," said Reprise record label Vice President Bill Bentley, who started Tornado Records with Sahm a few months ago. "There would be like two podunk stations playing the Tornados, and Doug would be acting like he had a hit record on his hands. `They're playing us in Poughkeepsie!' he'd say. `If you can win over Poughkeepsie, you can take on the world.' "

Bentley said a statue to Sahm should be built in his beloved Austin. "He belongs right next to Stevie (Ray Vaughan)," Bentley said.

Back in Austin at Antone's, one of Sahm's favorite clubs, preparations were under way for tribute shows Dec. 3 and 4.

presented by The Austin American-Statesman and
CIM Logo All rights reserved. | © Copyright 1999 | © Privacy Policy
By using Austin360 you accept the terms of our visitor agreement.
Registered site users, use this link to edit your personal profile.