The New York Times on the Web


Doug Sahm,
Musical Voice of Texas,
Dies at 58


Doug Sahm, a patriarch of Texas rock and country music, was found dead on Thursday in Taos, N.M., The Associated Press reported. He was 58 and lived in Austin.

A Taos police spokesman said he appeared to have died of natural causes. An autopsy was ordered.

Sahm had been making music since before the birth of rock 'n' roll in the 1950's. He played country, blues, honky-tonk, folk rock, Tex-Mex, rockabilly, swing and just about every other style that thrived near the Mexican border. Sahm had his biggest hits in the 1960's as the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet, with "Mendocino" and "She's About a Mover," songs that transferred the pumping accordion chords of Tex-Mex to electric organ and helped to reshape American garage rock. In the 90's he sang and played with the Texas Tornados, an all-star band that won a Grammy Award in 1991 for Best Mexican-American performance.

Douglas Wayne Sahm was born in San Antonio and started making music before he could read. He learned to play guitar, steel guitar, fiddle and mandolin, and won a children's talent contest on KMAC in San Antonio, where he performed regularly for two years. He sat in with touring honky-tonkers including Webb Pierce and Hank Thompson. His mother made him refuse an invitation to the Grand Ole Opry radio show from Nashville, though he did appear on the "Louisiana Hayride" radio show before he was a teenager.

He made his first recording in 1955, a honky-tonk single called "A Real American Joe," under the name Little Doug and the Bandits; his voice had not yet changed. During high school he played guitar six nights a week at the Old Tiffany Club in San Antonio, soaking up blues and rhythm-and-blues. His next single, "Crazy Daisy" in 1958, reached local rhythm-and-blues charts, and "Why, Why, Why" in 1960 became a Top Five local hit. During the early 60's he worked in Texas and California, mixing blues, rhythm-and-blues and Tex-Mex music and making more regional hits, including "Crazy, Crazy Feeling."

In 1964, as the Beatles led the British Invasion into American pop, Sahm created a pseudo-British band: the Sir Douglas Quintet, including Augie Meyer on Vox electric organ. Recording in Houston with the producer Huey P. Meaux, they had a national hit with "She's About a Mover," and followed it up with "The Rains Came." Despite the band's British fashion sense, the music was unmistakably Tex-Mex. The group toured the United States and Europe and appeared on pop television shows including "Shindig," "Hullabaloo" and, in Britain, "Ready, Steady, Go."

Sahm moved to Northern California in 1966 with a new quintet (minus Meyer) that performed regularly at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. The band signed with Mercury Records; by then it had absorbed some psychedelia along with its blues, country and Tex-Mex material. Meyer rejoined the group in late 1968, and it recorded "Mendocino," its last major national hit.Sahm also produced albums for the blues singer Junior Parker and for a Mexican-American group in California, Louie and the Lovers.

Sahm returned to Texas in 1971 and temporarily retired the Sir Douglas name. His 1973 album, "Doug Sahm and Band," featured a guest appearance by Bob Dylan, who wrote "Wallflower" for the album. Sahm's 1974 album, "Groovers Paradise," used the rhythm section from Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Sahm was settling into a role as a voice of Texas. He sang about Texas cities and memories, he named his band the Texas Tornados and he used album titles like "Texas Rock for Country Rollers." By the mid-70's the "cosmic cowboy" movement was coalescing around Austin, Tex., mixing down-home music with hippie vagaries, and Sahm was right at home in it; he was a regular performer at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin.

New-wave rockers, particularly Elvis Costello and the Attractions, revived the sound of organ-driven Tex-Mex rock in the late 70's. Through the 80's Sahm and Meyer toured with a reconstituted Sir Douglas Quintet that also included Sahm's son Shawn on guitar. Their 1981 album, "Border Wave," flaunted their role as precursors of new-wave rock. The quintet toured the United States and Europe through the 80's. Sahm released albums in Europe, including one of rockabilly songs with the Texas Mavericks and 50's Tex-Mex songs with Mexican musicians. He produced an album for Meyer of straightforward Mexican conjunto music.

In 1986 a visit to Vancouver led Sahm to assemble a group called the Formerly Brothers; their album of Cajun and country songs won a Juno Award, Canada's equivalent of the Grammy Awards.

In 1989 a concert in San Francisco brought together the Texas Tornados: Sahm, Meyer, the Mexican-American singer Freddy Fender and a top conjunto accordionist, Flaco Jimenez, backed by musicians from Mexico and Texas. The band leaders took turns singing lead vocals and did not appear together on most of the album's songs, but the album won a Grammy.

The group made follow-up albums in 1991 and 1992 before disbanding; it also released Spanish-language versions of its songs. The Tornados regrouped to perform in Austin to make "Live From the Limo," which was released in July. Sahm had recorded an album of country songs, due for release in March, called "The Return of Wayne Douglas."

In addition to Shawn, Sahm is survived by another son, Shandon, and a daughter Dawn; a brother, Victor; and two grandchildren.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

The Doug Sahm Pages | Doug Sahm Biography