A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 27, 2009
Ten years ago this November, Douglas Wayne Sahm checked into the Kachina Lodge in Taos. Shortly thereafter he checked out of this earthly plane.
It was a loss felt by all true fans of Texas music — and by that I mean country, blues, Tex-Mex, rock ’n’ roll, and all the wonderful blends of those ingredients that Sahm loved so much and performed so well. His work with his bands — going back to the mid-’60s with the Sir Douglas Quintet and later with the Texas Tornados — and in his solo projects is nothing short of timeless.
It’s not quite as exciting as, say, a discovery of never-released lost Sahm recordings, but there’s a new record that Sir Doug fans shouldn’t be without. Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm — released this week — was lovingly put together by a team led by Sahm’s son Shawn Sahm.
This isn’t the first tribute album for the man. There was Songs of Sahm by the Bottle Rockets back in 2002. That was a fine effort worth seeking out. And some of the Sahm obscurities on the Bottle Rockets’ effort — like “Lawd, I’m Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City,” “Stoned Faces Don’t Lie,” and “You Can’t Hide a Redneck (Under That Hippy Hair)” — aren’t on the new tribute.
But there’s a lot more Texas on the new one, including numbers performed by Sahm’s old band mates, friends, family, and contemporaries. The two surviving Texas Tornados, accordion master Flaco Jiménez and organist Augie Meyers, reunite on a song called “Ta Bueno, Compadre.” Sung by Nunie Rubio and featuring the West Side Horns’ Al Gomez on trumpet and Louie Bustos on tenor sax, this is an upbeat Tex-Mex stomper. (The fourth Texas Tornado, Freddy Fender — the mayor of Milagro — joined Sahm in rock ’n’ roll heaven in 2006.)
Meyers — Sahm’s main sidekick, whose Vox organ was one of the most recognizable components of the SDQ — also pops up here on “Adios, Mexico,” a rocking Tornados tune performed by Joe “King” Carrasco. Carrasco was perhaps Sahm’s most important disciple in the early 1980s, playing a hopped-up version of the basic SDQ sound he called “Nuevo Wavo.”
This wouldn’t be a proper Doug tribute without those contemporary Sahm disciples, The Gourds. The Austin band displays Sahm’s (and its own) Mexican and Cajun influences on the song “Nuevo Laredo.”
Santa Fe’s Terry Allen is spotlighted doing a bluesy Sahm tune called “I’m Not That Kat Anymore.” Terry’s joined by his usual gang, known as the Panhandle Mystery Band, led by Lloyd Maines on guitar. And that’s Joe Ely on background vocals. Even more bluesy is Jimmie Vaughan, who does a Sahm shouter called “Why Why Why,” complete with a horn section and Sahm’s longtime drummer George Rains.
Little Willie G., from the 1960s East L.A. band Thee Midnighters, kicks off the album with the Sir Douglas Quintet’s first hit “She’s About a Mover.” (According to legend, the SDQ tried to pass itself off as English to cash in on the British Invasion. But after listening to this song for more than a couple of seconds, nobody but a drooling moron could mistake Doug Sahm for a limey.) Ry Cooder produced and plays a great grating electric guitar on this track. And we stay in East L.A. for the next tune, “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” a suave little mellow song performed by Los Lobos with Cesar Rosas on lead vocals and Steve Berlin shining on sax.
Most of the artists on the CD — including Dave Alvin, Alejandro Escovedo, and Delbert McClinton, all of whom provide worthwhile interpretations — are no big surprise. But somehow I’ve never associated the music of Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers) with the music of Doug Sahm. So Dulli’s contribution, “You Was for Real” is the big surprise of the album. Even though there’s steel guitar (Greg Leisz) and fiddle (Amy Farris), it’s unmistakably Dulli. He’s played with the melody of the song — originally a cry-in-your-beer honky-tonker — and turned it into a dark, minor-key slow-burner. You might call the sound “Twilight Tornado.” It’s truly one of the tribute’s highlights.
But speaking of being for real, my very favorite song on Keep Your Soul is “Be Real” by Freda and the Firedogs. This group, led by long, tall Marcia Ball, was an Austin staple back in the day when Sahm was inventing the concept of the “cosmic cowboy.” Sahm would perform with the Firedogs. Ball, reunited with her old bandmates, sings Sahm’s two-stepper with unpretentious grace, class and emotion.
Somewhere, Sir Doug has to be smiling.
I’ll be Doug-gone: Friday night on The Santa Fe Opry I’ll do a proper tribute of my own to Mr. Sahm, playing tracks from Keep Your Soul, other Sahm covers, and of course, tons of Doug’s own stuff. The Opry starts at 10 p.m. Mountain Time, and the Sahm segment starts right after the 11th hour. That’s KSFR-FM 101.1 FM and streaming live at ksfr.org.
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