The Tex Mex Beatles
The Sir Douglas of the Sir Douglas Quintet was San Antonio native Doug Sahm, a former child prodigy of country music born in 1941, who made his radio debut at the age of five. He was a featured player on steel guitar, mandolin, and fiddle on the “Louisiana Hayride” program at age eight, where had accompanied stars like Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, and Faron Young. Sahm even appeared on stage with Hank Williams in Austin during December 1952, less than two weeks before the great man died. The Texas boy started making records for local labels before he reached the age of 12. Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry offered him a regular spot on the show when he was 13, but his mom wanted him to stay home and finish junior high. Sahm fronted a number of different country and rock bands during the ‘50s with names like the Pharaohs, the Dell-Kings, and the Markays, but he didn’t hit the national charts in a major way until he formed the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965.
As the name suggests, the Sir Douglas Quintet tried to cash in on the British Invasion by growing long hair and recording beat-oriented pop-rock. The band’s biggest international smash, “She’s About a Mover”, blatantly copied the sound of the Fab Four’s “She’s a Woman”. The group, which also featured Augie Meyers’ chirpy farfisa organ playing, had a few other top 40 discs (“Mendocino”, “Rains Came”), but eventually disbanded in 1972. Sahm pursued a solo career with some success during the ‘70s and that appeared to be the end of The Sir Douglas Quintet.
However, popular music tastes changed. Sahm realized the New Wave sound shared much in common with the British Invasion beat of the Sir Douglas Quintet and reformed the band, bringing back Meyers and another Texas compadre he had frequently played with, Alvin Crow, on fiddle and guitar. This January 1981 Live from Austin, Texas concert is an expanded version of the half hour TV show “Austin City Limits” and features previously unreleased footage. Like all of the other programs in the series, the audio and video quality here is first rate. More importantly, the performance kicks butt.
The Sir Douglas Quintet plays a mixed repertoire of material that includes the band’s old hits from the ‘60s, songs coming from their then-forthcoming record, and selections from Sahm’s solo stuff. Included here is a raucous version of his hometown paean “(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone”; eclectic covers, such as The Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line?” and the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”; some greasy Tex Mex that features Meyers on accordion; and what Sahm call’s “Austin’s version of the national anthem back in 1974, ‘Groover’s Paradise.’” The local audience enthusiastically expresses its appreciation for this tune and all the others, but curiously the audience is never seen on the DVD. One can spot people when the camera pans back from close-ups of the artists, but there is not one shot of the crowd applauding or reacting or even just sitting there watching. The reasons for this are unknown. Perhaps it has to do with the limitations of the TV studio. The “Austin City Limits” set here consists of some odd-looking horse fences and predates the faux city skyline featured prominently on more recent programs. Still, it would be nice to see if the crowd was made up of cowboys, hippies, punks, Hispanics, or a mixture of them all, as Austin was a melting pot of cultures at the time.
Which, in light of modern day immigration concerns, suggests another interesting aspect about the band and its reception. When the blond haired, blue-eyed Sahm sings, “Chicano, soy Chicano, all my brothers come together right now. / And all across the USA jump up and say, ‘Chicano, soy Chicano, right on,’” Sahm received lively applause. He wasn’t pandering. The San Antonio musician had a strong history of incorporating Mexican music into his own and has been considered a pioneer in this respect. After the Sir Douglas Quintet broke up again, Sahm and Meyers joined up in the ‘90s with Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez to form the Tex Mex super group the Texas Tornadoes.
Sahm died in 1999, but the 17 songs on Live from Austin, Texas reveal his charisma and considerable talents as a singer and guitar player. Meyers and Crow are also showcased to great effect. Incidentally, there are six members of the quintet on this release, which includes Doug’s son Shawn on rhythm guitar, John Perez on drums, and Speedy Sparks on electric bass. The number of people in the group is not important. What matters is how damn good they played.