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Farewell to a Troubadour 

Doug Sahm's funeral elicits tears, laughs and lots of memories 

By Jim Beal Jr.
Express-News Arts Writer 

Doug Sahm's funeral Tuesday was part mourning, part extended family reunion, part remembrance of a life lived well and all celebration of the best parts of making music.

 Sahm, 58, a Texas music icon, died of a heart attack last week while vacationing in Taos, N.M.

 About 1,000 people swarmed Sunset Memorial Park and Funeral Home to send Sahm off in style. 

Musicians' funerals always attract a varied crowd. Sahm's did that. For good reason.

 A music-maker for 53 of his 58 years, the East Side-bred Sahm played country, rock 'n' roll, blues, Tex-Mex, jazz and combinations thereof. So it made sense that the people who went to Sunset Memorial to pay their respects and say adios, or hasta luego, reflected the variety that marked Sahm's music.

 The folks who filed past Sahm's open casket were musicians, fans and friends. A visitation period that was supposed to last for an hour stretched to two.

 West Side saxophonists hugged and cried with Austin guitarists while a storied wrestler and a priest said hello.

 Bikers shook hands with conjunto artists while those who influenced Sahm swapped stories with those whom he influenced. 

Longtime fans shepherded their children and grandchildren around the parking lot and through the funeral chapel while cowboy singers stood with blues pickers and poets, and shook their heads and said, "Way too soon."

 Sahm always cared how he looked. And he looked good, as good as he could have looked, in the casket. He was decked out in a black cowboy hat, fashionable shades and plenty of jewelry. Wreaths and photos ringed the chapel. A fiddle and a triple-neck Fender steel guitar, Sahm's first serious instrument, flanked the coffin. 

"I met Doug 20 or 25 years ago," wrestling legend Jose Lothario said. "He always liked the bad guys. We used to argue back and forth about wrestling. He was a beautiful person. He did a lot of good things." 

Tenor saxophonist Rocky Morales, a collaborator with Sahm off and on since the 1959 regional hit "Why, Why, Why," cried a while and laughed a while.

 "He did all types of music. He played all of the instruments," Morales said. "He knew what he was doing. I'm going to miss him."

 Blues guitarist and singer Randy Garibay started working with Sahm in the '50s when the East Sider joined forces with the West Sider's vocal group, the Pharaohs. 

Garibay told a story about being onstage at Antone's nightclub with Sahm and Jimmy Vaughan when Vaughan's brother, Stevie Ray, dropped by to jam.

 "I was the first to put down my guitar and sneak off the stage," Garibay said with a laugh. "Doug was next. We left Jimmy up there."

 "Doug was a teacher," said Jimmy Vaughan, who also attended the funeral. "He did every kind of music. He had so much experience that everyone looked up to him."

 Few Doug Sahm gigs came off without a hitch. It was probably fitting that his funeral had a few minor problems. Because so many people showed up, plans for a graveside ceremony were scrapped and the service continued at the jammed chapel.

 Of course, the sound system was not loud enough for those inside and those listening outside. And what was scheduled to be a broadcast of a KONO radio tribute was shut off when a string of commercials were followed not by Doug Sahm music but by Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy." Right era. Wrong song.

 The spiritual and the family side of Sahm were represented by minister Sister Terry; Sahm's older brother Vic; Sahm's children Dawn, Shawn and Shandon; Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford; and Sahm's 35-year music partner, Augie Meyers.

 From his early days on the radio and on records as "Little" Doug, Sahm worked with an array of groups: Charlie & the Jives, the Pharaohs, the Markays, the Spot Barnett band, the Twisters and others. In 1964, he jumped headlong into the British Invasion with the Sir Douglas Quintet and the hit "She's About a Mover."

 Sahm kept his blues side active with groups such as the Last Real Texas Blues Band, played country with fiddler Alvin Crow, and helped flange together the Grammy Award-winning Tex-Mex super group the Texas Tornados.

 Flaco Jimenez began recording with Sahm in the mid-'70s. Their collaboration reached a high point in the Tornados.

 "He was a guidance for my kind of music, to understand each other in music in different ways," Jimenez said. "That brought me to an understanding of different kinds of music, and he guided me to the world of music outside what I was doing.

 "He introduced me to Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Augie and a lot of other musicians. His ideas always came out of the blue. We didn't have to rehearse either. We'd set it up, jam, and that was the recording."

 Esther Farris knew Sahm when both were kids. Her husband, Tony Kerekes, played drums with him in the '50s.

 "I didn't think anybody who was making music in those days was special except Elvis," Farris said. "But I thought Doug was. Musicians are a dime a dozen. You don't recognize the greats when you're walking with them. A lot of musicians have a hard time and walk away. Doug never walked away." 

Meyers' Vox organ played counterpoint to Sahm's melodies in the Quintet and in the Tornados. On Tuesday, he suggested the partnership isn't exactly over.

 "He could get on a mental horse and ride off in seven different directions at once," Meyers said. "People say Doug lived a full life. He's still full in my life."

Tuesday, Nov 23, 1999

© 1999 San Antonio Express-News