Classic Americana Albums: Doug Sahm “Doug Sahm And Band”

Atlantic Records, 1972

By the time the 70s arrived, Doug Sahm already had several careers behind him. The original Texas cosmic cowboy, Sahm was a child prodigy (allegedly appearing on stage with Hank Williams aged just 11, back in 1952), proficient on guitar, fiddle and mandolin and he parlayed this talent into a series of regional hit records in the late 50s, raw rock’n’roll, blues, Texicana and polkas all within his purvey.

The mid 60s found Sahm and his bandmates (including Augie Meyers) transformed into a UK styled beat group under the name of The Sir Douglas Quintet after a local record label owner, Huey P. Meaux, decided to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles. To everyone’s surprise, the ploy worked and their debut single ‘She’s About A Mover’ hit the charts and the band appeared on stage with The Beatles and The Beach Boys while Bob Dylan proclaimed himself a fan. Despite this pop success, the band were hounded out of Texas after a series of drug busts and Sahm relocated to San Francisco where he fully immersed himself in the burgeoning hippie culture, releasing several fine albums under the Sir Douglas soubriquet.

By 1972 Texas had its own freak scene, based around Austin and Sahm returned to his home state. However, he was lured to New York when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records offered him a contract and a budget way higher than he was used to and which offered him the opportunity to play with what was essentially a session band composed of serious big hitters. Alongside Sir Douglas Quintet stalwarts Augie Meyers and Martin Fierro, there’s saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman and accordionist Flaco Jiminez, guitarist David Bromberg and Dr. John on keyboards. A great line up but pretty much eclipsed by the presence of Bob Dylan as part of the entourage. Dylan was at this point, something of  a hermit, in between labels with his last release being 1970’s ‘New Morning’ – back then, this was a long hiatus. Anyhow, Dylan’s presence on several of the songs, alongside his writing of one of the album’s songs, ‘Wallflower’, was the major selling point. Truth to tell, it’s the one song here where his presence is truly heard as ultimately he’s content to just be a member of the band.

Galvanised perhaps by his opportunity to record with such a stellar crew of like minded (and maybe stoned) individuals, Sahm turns in a superb collection which touches all of his bases – blues, country, western swing and Tejano are all there – and his impromptu studio super group (18 in number, perfectly captured on the back cover photograph by David Gahr and excellently portrayed on the front cover in a cartoon by the esteemed Gilbert Shelton), play it as tight or loose as each song demands. Whatever the style, Sahm stamps his personality on the song, the best example being his version of Willie Nelson’s ‘Me And Paul’ as he adds some sandpaper to Nelson’s tale of being on the road, rocking it up with Dylan’s raspy harmonica duelling with the horn section.

The album opens with a song indelibly linked to Sahm, ‘(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone’. It’s a perfect example of the then nascent country rock fashion with its twin fiddles and pedal steel loping along over the primitive rock’n’roll beat. “Here’s a song now about my home town” says Sahm as the song kicks off, not straying too far from Charley Pride’s version (a hit a few years before) but stripping it of any Nashville polish -you can imagine Wyatt and Billy, the protagonists of Easy Rider, grooving to this after some strong weed and deciding to head to Texas instead of New Orleans. This country rock vibe continues on ‘It’s Going To Be Easy’, written by long time Sahm colleague, Atwood Allen. Listening to this these days it’s tempting to consider that The Felice Brothers must be familiar with the song. ‘Poison Love’ is soaked in Mexicana with Jiminez rockin’ the accordion while Sahm’s version of Bob Wills’ ‘Faded Love’ injects new life into the song, a precursor to the likes of Asleep At The Wheel.

When the album was recorded it wasn’t too long after teenage America had discovered their original blues players. UK bands like The Stones, along with home-grown acts such as The Butterfield Blues Band and Canned Heat, had pointed them in their direction, ending up with the likes of B.B. King appearing at San Francisco’s Filmore on a psychedelic bill. Sahm grew up with blues music all around him and he grabs the opportunity to indulge in his love of Texas blues when he plays lead guitar on T Bone Walker’s ‘Papa Ain’t Salty’ and Deadric Malone’s ‘Your Friends’. Sahm only has writing credits on three of the songs on the album and it’s notable that they are all blues based. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ wallows in a swamp pop sound in the manner of Tommy McLain and ‘Dealer’s Blues’ updates the Bobby Blue Bland sound with Sahm reckoning that snorting coke helps you to sing the blues. This dash of the blues adds to the heady mix of styles which Sahm gathered on the album. This culminates in the final song, ‘I Get Off’, a horn laden romp of a song with delicious guitar licks and a pumping Farfisa organ.

And then there’s the Dylan song, ‘Wallflower’. At the time, having Dylan back on record was quite newsworthy and it’s probably fair to say that Sahm himself was somewhat edged out of the picture as the music press focussed on Dylan’s involvement.  It’s a fine old time waltz of a song with Dylan clearly heard singing along with Sahm but it’s one of his minor writings and the most ramshackle song on the album. Having said that, ramshackle is not in itself a bad thing and Dylan and Sahm seem to having great fun singing with each other with the song reminiscent of Dylan roaming around his roots on ‘The Basement Tapes’.

So, why is this a classic americana album? Sahm is one of the touchstones of americana. His pop hits had roots in the hinterland of American roots music and he went on to epitomize the great sprawl of influences which formed Americana. ‘Doug Sahm And Band’ is the most condensed summary of the man, on top of a wave and, most likely, stoned immaculate.

About Paul Kerr 432 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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Martin Johnson

This was a bit of a gateway album for me, it was the first time I had come across a Willie Nelson song, or heard Flaco Jimenez and Andy Statman. Jerry Wexler was in the process of setting up an Atlantic Records country arm and Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson were key artists for him. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if he had been allowed to make a sustained go of it. This album, Doug’s Texas Tornado and Willie’s Shotgun Willie and Phases & Stages showed Wexler was onto something.

Dave Cooper

Great album, I’ve probably listened 100 times. Me and Paul, Poison Love, San Antoine, Wallflower, Faded Love, great stuff