July 21, 1982


venue: Horseshoe Tavern
place: Toronto
country: Canada


Doug Sahm - Open Spaces
August 20, 2009
By: Roman Mitz

Doug Sahm - Tex Mex Trip

I had the opportunity of meeting Doug Sahm several times over the years before his untimely passing in November of 1999. Esteemed writer Chet Flippo probably described Doug's music best on the back cover of The Sir Douglas Quintet's Greatest Hits album. He said that Sir Doug "unconsciously fused Texas, C & W, Western Swing, Texas Blues, Tex Mex, German Polkas and everything else he heard."

The first time I saw Doug was in the summer of 1982 when, riding high on the Quintet's "comeback" album Border Wave, the "sextet" (Doug, Augie Meyers, Shawn Sahm, Jack Barber, George Rains and Rocky Morales) pulled into Toronto's Horsehoe Tavern for a three night stand from July 21-23. Sir Douglas was becoming hot again with appearances on television shows such as Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits and Fridays and, while the long awaited follow-up to the band's 1969 hit 'Mendocino' didn't happen, the new material was a Godsend for Quintet fans.

Their performance at the Horseshoe was brilliant as the group effortlessly shifted gears from a Tex Mex cover of '96 Tears' to the pure rock & roll of 'Tutti Frutti' to their own classic 'She's About a Mover'. In his review of the show, The Toronto Sun's Wilder Penfield described the Quintet as "an unfussy, well oiled, beautifully toned, working man's machine." I spoke to Doug briefly after the first set on the first night and he was bristling with kinetic energy, pumped about playing such a "soulful" club in Toronto.

Five long years passed before Doug headed through these parts again for a three night stand with blues guitarist Amos Garrett, former Blaster keyboard player Gene Taylor, drummer Bohdan Hluszko and bassist Kit Johnson, collectively known as the Eh Team. (The name reflects the band's Canadian content in terms of its members) The Horseshoe was again the venue for two of the shows, with the third taking place at the neighboring Bamboo Club. Garrett, perhaps best known for laying down the guitar licks on Maria Muldaur's 'Midnight At The Oasis', was a huge Sahm fan and he had the Quintet's repertoire down pat. It therefore came as no surprise that the shows were laced with a few blues nuggets from such Sahm influences as T-Bone Walker and Lightnin' Hopkins.

I saw all of the shows, but my favorite moment came on the last night when Doug kicked off the second set with 'Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone, dedicating the song to my wife Julie (at the between-set behest of one of my buddies). "Hey Julie, this one's for you darlin'," he drawled. I distinctly remember the Eh Team closing out their encore with a smoking version of 'Long Tall Sally' with Doug doing that old Sixties dance The Swim, front and center. The crowd's response nearly brought the Horseshoe down to its foundations.

This visit to Toronto marked my first extensive interview with Doug. An excerpt from our conversation ran in Music Express Magazine, but I retrieved the whole interview from my archives and it follows in its entirety. A couple of moments from the interview stand out in my mind. Doug was a true baseball fanatic and I remember him raving about the Blue Jays, who had lost to Kansas City in the previous year's playoffs, and what a good young ball club they were. Doug was eager to go to a Jays game although he was confounded by our primitive law of the time, which disallowed the sale of beer at the ball park. Secondly, after the interview I asked Doug to autograph one of my albums and this has truly become my most prized possession. He wrote 'To Roman, a real Amigo in Toronto. Love, Doug.'

While in town Doug Sahm is holed up at the Waldorf Astoria and thanks to publicist Richard Flohil, one of Doug's compadres in Toronto, I score a late afternoon interview the day after the Eh Team's first gig at the Horseshoe Tavern. When I arrive at his hotel room, Doug is in a desperate state for some Mexican food. He dons a New York Mets cap and bolts out the door, and we begin our search for a place that has enchiladas on its menu. Our mission proves to be unsuccessful, however, and Doug settles for German sausages and rye bread back at the Horseshoe. Mid-meal, Doug is approached by a representative from a European record label. The label is in the process of putting out a live Doug Sahm recording and, armed with a portable recorder, the rep is eager to play a couple of songs so Doug can date the performance. The opening strains of 'She's About A Mover' fill the air and Doug just laughs. "Man, I've played that song a million times. It could be from anywhere."

Following the meal, we head back to Doug's hotel where he waves off my gift offering of a six-pack of Lone Star beer. "I prefer the Canadian stuff,' he says. "There aren't as many chemicals in it. But man, my favorite is Danish and German beer, especially that Black Gold. A lot of people don't realize that the real shit doesn't even leave Denmark. It's just the name they export".

Doug is no stranger to European terrain. The early eighties reunion of The Sir Douglas Quintet led to overseas success and Doug released a subsequent string of successful albums on European labels. The fact that he set off for foreign ports of call was really a business decision.

"It's all corporation shit in the U.S., man. It's all geared toward high dollar rock and roll. I mean Bill Haley died in poverty; nobody even knew where he was. That's a f____ crime…he died a hopeless alcoholic. It's all corporate rock and you can't battle the big labels. Payola's getting heavy again too. It's out there.

"I have stuff out on Sonet in Scandanavia," he continues. 'Meet Me In Stockholm' was a huge hit for us in Sweden. I also like Demon Records in England. There are only a few independent guys in Europe who have taste and aren't necessarily in it for the money. Here in Canada, Stony Plain is a great label. I'd like to see (Stony Plain head) Holger Peterson get really successful; I probably wouldn't be here without him."

If there is one constant in Doug's career, from the earliest days of the Quintet through his early seventies major label efforts and on into Europe, it is keyboard man Augie Meyers. While Augie is not part of the Eh Team, you just know he'll be back in the fold sometime soon.

"Augie and I are doing a show in San Antonio next month with Los Lobos, Steve Jordan and some other Mexican bands. That's a happening…it's called a conjunto fest. Me and Augie are going to do all of the oldies and it's going to be fun. When you've been with someone so long, you know each other's heartbeat. But you gotta watch that nostalgia thing when it comes to Quintet reunions. It's almost like the Blues Brothers movie, you know, the line where they say 'We're getting the band back together'. I laughed at that, man. I've told people that so many times.

"When you play with different people you don't get bored all the time," he continues. "I mean, did you listen to 'Good Golly Miss Molly' last night? Man, that drummer (Hluszko) has got it down. I thought the set was really well mixed up and they're really good players."

Another really good player in Doug's bloodline is son Shawn, who plays lead guitar for a hard rocking San Antonio outfit called Prezence. Shawn learned his chops alongside his dad in the early eighties version of the Quintet, but now he's definitely carving his own niche. "Yeah, just listen to this," the proud papa says as he pops a cassette into his tape player. The screeching guitar licks that shake the small speaker are closer to Megadeth than 'Mendocino'.

"It's just a whole different ball game than what I play," Doug says. "He's got stacks of Marshall amplifiers and I've got the George Strait Vox speakers. Boy, that's a cross-section ain't it? Prezence just drew 5,000 people in San Antonio the other day. The singer's a real good looking Chicano guy who wears spandex and all that. The chicks just go bananas."

Doug relies more on his multi-instrumental talent and his rich musical heritage, to drive his audience bananas. At last night's show he ripped the blues lid off of T-Bone Walker's 'Papa Ain't Salty' and then laid down some Chuck Berryesque guitar licks on 'Roll Over Beethoven'. There's also some pretty frenetic playing on 'Bavarian Baby', a track from his latest album, appropriately titled Luv Ya' Europa.

"That was a pretty good album, but the one I'm working on is going to be a killer." (Doug puts another cassette into his deck and plays his excellent update of the Bobby Fuller Four hit, 'I Fought The Law'.) "I'm cutting this album with (guitarist/fiddler) Alvin Crow. We don't want to cut it as Alvin and Doug; my pseudonym is Samm Dogg and I have this rasslin' mask that I wear. Me and Alvin will be wearing rasslin' attire…we're into it. The British Bulldogs, man, that's show biz ain't it? The WWF is the show biz of wrestling."

I asked Doug if he minds if I smoke and he laughs, "Man, I've worked in clubs for 30 years. Michael Murphy ('Wildfire') says that stuff, you know, 'Put out that cigarette, I can't breathe'. Shit, you might as well quit and go home."

The phone rings and Doug answers and finds that it's bluesman Johnny Copeland, who's also in town playing a show. Copeland tells Doug of a favorable review of the Eh Team's show in one of Toronto's daily newspapers. Doug thanks him and the two agree to meet up after Doug finishes the interview.

Another Sahm fan who turned up after last night's show was KISS guitarist Paul Stanley, who insisted on having his picture taken with Doug. Throughout his career, Sir Doug has come into contact with a potpourri of musical celebrities.

"I dug playing with Dylan on the Doug Sahm & Band album", he says. "I don't really like his new stuff as much as I do the old stuff. I don't go for the chicks in there singing all that shoo bop. I like it when he came out and sang (singing the opening line from 'Positively 4th Street'), 'You've got a lot of nerve…' I don't know if the world can handle all that right now, his coming out and laying all that heavy shit on them.

"I loved playing with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford from Creedence on my Groover's Paradise album. Cosmo (Clifford) is still trying to get a record thing; he finally realized Creedence was never going to happen again. There are a lot of bad vibes with Fogerty…there's a lot of bad business and it's real deep."

As the conversation winds down, Doug's thoughts turn to baseball. The man is a walking baseball encyclopedia and with the Toronto Blue Jays becoming a contender for the first time, Doug isn't opposed to remaining north of the border for awhile.

"I love baseball, man. I coach a team on which Alvin (Crow) plays first base. My team's called the Hippies and we play the Yuppies. One day it's gonna be a knock down, drag out…I can feel it coming. I know the game backwards and forwards. I can tell you about the '54 Cleveland Indians who won 112 ball games, then lost the World Series in four straight. That's when Willie Mays made that incredible catch, going away, against Vic Wertz.

"Man, I wish I could hang around until Monday when Baltimore comes to town. I wish I could get out of the European thing I have lined up. I'd like to stay in Toronto for a couple of weeks."

While he was unable to stay, it wasn't long afterward that Doug relocated to Canada's west coast, where he spent a couple of years living in Vancouver, British Columbia. While there, he cut one album with the Eh Team for Stony Plain Records (The Return Of the Formerly Brothers), that won a Canadian Juno Award for best Roots/Traditional album in 1989. It wasn't long afterward, however, that Doug became restless again. He told the Dallas Observer his rationale for moving back to Texas. "Mexican food, man. You can take the tacos away from the boy, but you can't take the tacos out of the boy."

The next stop for Doug was the Texas Tornados, a success story that happened without the benefit of major radio play or a hit single. Doug teamed up with Augie, Freddy Fender and Flaco Jiminez for the first ever Tex Mex supergroup. While he liked the concept, Doug found long tours and non-changing set lists, to be a bit confining. As he told the Toronto Star, "This touring thing is a little harder on me, 'cause, like me and Freddie have this joke that I'm the quintessential sixties hippie who wants to jump in his car and drive to Vancouver on a whim."

The Horseshoe was again the venue for the Tornados' first visit to Toronto on September 24, 1990. It was a masterful show that saw Doug take turns on fiddle, guitar and baja sexto. I chatted briefly with him after the show and asked the entire band to sign a poster-size reprint of the cover of their first album. Doug signed it 'Texas Cupid'. The Tornados released three subsequent studio albums and a Greatest Hits package, but it was their debut that garnered the most success. A track from that album entitled 'Soy De Sans Luis', won the group a Grammy Award for best Mexican/American performance.

I saw the Tornados again at the Florida State Fair on February 10, 1992. Doug did not take center stage too often on this occasion, preferring to remain off to the side strumming his baja sexto. After the show an autograph session took place and Doug registered pleasant surprise when he saw my wife and I standing in line. Somewhere in the conversation he learned that I was of German descent and that my wife's family is Italian. "Man, you're going to produce some hot kids," he said. Doug was right about that too.

I saw Doug for the final time on June 14, 1992 when he played the Mariposa Festival in Toronto at Ontario Place. It was a truly miserable day with howling winds, cold temperatures and rain. In the afternoon Doug performed a mostly blues set at a small bandshell with the reunited Eh Team. Because of the relatively small crowd, it wasn't that difficult for Doug to spot me during the band's set. He came over after the show and thanked me for coming out; those were his last words to me. In the evening, the Tornados put on an amazing show at the Ontario Place Forum. Doug handled the majority of vocals and tore up the place with his electric guitar work. At one point he took off his guitar and began generating feedback by sliding the neck up and down an amplifier. It was truly a throwback to Doug's psychedelic days and the final image I'll remember him by.

Rather then end this story with a tearful tribute, it's probably best to close with a quote from Augie Meyers, Doug's band mate and soul brother for over forty years. As quoted by Augie to the San Antonio Express-News, "Doug left his mark in the world. The good Lord wanted to hear some Quintet and they weren't playing enough on the radio, I guess."