“Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove”: The Unsung Hero Of Texas Music

By on June 30, 2015

UPDATE 6/30: The filmmakers of the new Doug Sahm documentary Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove need your help in securing music rights for the film. The documentary, which premiered at this year’s SXSW Festival and earned Director Joe Nick Patoski “Variety’s 10 Documakers to Watch” have turned to Kickstarter in order to raise $75,000 needed to complete and distribute the film so that the world will come to know Doug Sahm’s Cosmic Texas sound. They have just 30 days to raise $75K on Kickstarter. For more, go here.

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Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove is the first directorial effort of Joe Nick Patoski’s, a longtime friend and fan of the documentary’s hero, Doug Sahm, who just might be the greatest musician to emerge from Texas during the 20th century.

Originally posted on March 18, 2015: We can’t think of anyone better to tell Sahm’s saga than Patoski, the accomplished Texas writer, who has authored books on Willie Nelson, Selena, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and written about Texas music for Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. When the film premiered at SXSW this year, here’s what the event page had to say: Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove tells the story of Doug Sahm, the wild man musicians’ musician and unsung hero of Texas music. A country music child prodigy and teenage rhythm & blues dynamo who caused a riot at his San Antonio high school, Sahm emerged as an international rock star leading the Sir Douglas Quintet. He landed in San Francisco just in time for the Summer of Love in 1967. He returned to Texas as the cowboy hippie rocker who built a burgeoning music scene in Austin before forming the Tex-Mex super group The Texas Tornados. A kinetic, quirky character with a solid sense of place as well as an innate wanderlust, Doug Sahm’s story is the story of Texas music.

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Doug Sahm got an early start in playing live music, and by age eleven, he was sharing the stage with country music legend Hank Williams. There’s a great photo of the two of them, shaking hands, in December 1952, at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas. It would turn out to be Williams’ last show; he died just thirteen days later, in the back seat of his Cadillac, while being driven to a gig on New Year’s Day, 1953. Heart failure and hard living did him in. He was only 29.

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Three short years after meeting Williams, Sahm began his own recording career, in 1955, waxing sides for a procession of small labels (Harlem, Warrior, Renner, and Personality), starting off the proceedings with the wholesome tune “A Real American Joe,” which released under the name he was using at the time, Little Doug Sahm. In another three years, he’d be leading a group called The Pharoahs, and he recorded a series of singles for Texas-based record companies, including “Crazy Daisy” (1959), “Sapphire” (1961), and “If You Ever Need Me” (1964).

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Producer Huey Meaux encouraged him to form a new band that reflected all of his musical interests, and so Sahm assembled a combo of his musician friends, including Augie Meyers (keyboards), Frank Morin (saxophone), Harvey Kagan (bass), and Johnny Perez (drums). Meaux dubbed them the Sir Douglas Quintet, and they had some initial success, but Sahm eventually made changes in his life, and moved to California, where he formed the Honkey Blues Band. He then re-formed the Sir Douglas Quintet in L.A., and recorded their classic single, “Mendocino.” Another producer would also come along and help Sahm find his true potential as a performer and recording artist, that man being the legendary Atlantic Records producer and A&R giant Jerry Wexler. Sahm, of course, would go on to have a fantastic and influential career, mixing Texas blues, country, rock & roll, Western swing, and Cajun, to form a unique hybrid that was uniquely his own. Unfortunately, Sahm’s own life was cut short, by a heart attack in 1999, at the age of 58.

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It’s fitting that the documentary will be screening over the next three days in Austin, Texas, a town which has a long history of lovin’ Doug Sahm and his music, in all its various forms. Five years ago, they even dedicated a hill in his honor. Doug Sahm Hill is located Austin’s Butler Park, south of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) and east of Lamar Boulevard, across from Auditorium Shores, next to the Long Center, and just a few blocks from the former site of the Armadillo World Headquarters. From the top of Doug Sahm Hill visitors can see the entire 22 acre park, as well as Austin’s growing skyline (Sahm’s friends still like to joke that it’s the “highest” point in the park, noting Sahm’s lifelong fondness for marijuana).

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Doug Sahm Hill is now a permanent reminder to visitors of Doug Sahm’s passion for real Texas music and his huge impact on not only the local Austin music scene but across the world. There’s a sign if you make it to the top, which contains a drawing by local artist/actor/comedian Kerry Awn and text from local music scene “Grande Dame” Margaret Moser, celebrated author and writer for the Austin Chronicle.

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We found some interesting assorted Doug Sahm video clips for you. Here’s a brief interview Doug Sahm by Playboy magazine founder and TV host Hugh Hefner, followed by live performance of “Mendocino” live on Hef’s show Playboy After Dark. This was taped on January 25, 1969, and originally aired on July 19, 1969, on WOR-9, New York City, and August 15, 1969 on KTLA-5, Los Angeles. That’s Hugh Hefner dancing at the 3:00 mark:

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Sahm also appeared in the 1971 cult classic Cisco Pike, starring Kris Kristofferson as an L.A.-based country-rock musician who has fallen on hard luck and, after a stint in prison, he turns to dealing marijuana after being blackmailed by a crooked cop, playing Gene Hackman.

Along the way, Cisco runs into reminders of his longed-for past, such as Rex (played by Doug Sahm), a former record-chart peer who is still a success:

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Incidentally, the song you hear “Rex” playing with his band was “Michoacan.” Here’s a quote from Kim Fowley, excerpted from Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and on Your Screen by Harvey Kubernik.

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James Medlin’s liner notes say it best: “Doug was American as baseball, as Texan as the Alamo and as country as chicken-fried steak.”

The Return of Wayne Douglas -- the title comes from one of the aliases Doug Sahm used during country music gigs around Austin, TX — turned out to be Sahm’s final studio album. It was recorded just before his heart gave out in a Taos, NM, motel room on November 18, 1999, but released posthumously in late 2000 by Tornado Records, a division of Birdman Recordings.

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Doug and Shawn Sahm

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.