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When he emerged as a child prodigy on the steel guitar, being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry as a teen, it was a certain bet that Doug Sahm would make a career in country music. What no one would have predicted was how many different aliases Sahm would take over the course of his 40-year career in the genre. So, to honor our VMP Country Record of the Month for April 2022, here’s a primer on all the different aliases and bands Sahm fronted over the years.
Sir Douglas Quintet
Sahm put his first single out at 14, and had a minor hit in his native San Antonio at 18, when his “Why Why Why” became an early rock ’n’ roll hit. But he didn’t have his first brush with national fame until 1965’s “She’s About a Mover,” a song from his band the Sir Douglas Quintet. The band was born in San Antone, but in their presentation tried to confuse audiences into thinking they were a part of the British Invasion, another band from Liverpool or London taking American airwaves. It worked, and the band had decent sales on the three albums they made in the late ’60s. The most important album, however, was Mendocino, as it was a groundbreaking album that blended Sahm and the band’s Tex-Mex influences with the sounds of the era.
During the Quintet’s most successful period, the band had to relocate to San Francisco following a weed bust and, when there, were a popular opener for bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead. Sahm appeared on the cover of a new magazine called Rolling Stone twice, and became a star of the scene — which is maybe why he decided to break up the Quintet, and move on to something else.
Doug Sahm and Band
In 1972, Jerry Wexler, the famed producer behind Aretha Franklin and Atlantic’s soul roster, was tasked with kick-starting the label’s foray into country music. He went not to Nashville, but to Austin, Texas, where Sahm had recently relocated, and where a down-on-his-luck songwriter named Willie Nelson had also started performing. Wexler signed Willie and Doug pretty quickly, and while Nelson’s Shotgun Willie would be the masterpiece of Atlantic Country, Sahm actually put out the first country album on the label: Doug Sahm and Band. Another unsung masterpiece, it blends country, rock and the blues in a way that predates alt-country and outlaw country. Like all of Sahm’s albums, it undersold, and for the final album on his Atlantic deal, he changed his name again.
Sir Douglas Band
For reasons probably only he could explain, Texas Tornado, Sahm’s second Atlantic album, was released under the Sir Douglas Band, which is a misnomer, since it is mostly songs leftover from the sessions for Doug Sahm and Band. But this album blends the lines between rock and country even more fully, and the title track would give Sahm a name he’d use for the rest of his life (and which would inspire the name of another Texas legend).
Doug Sahm and the Tex-Mex Trip
For one album, Groover’s Paradise, his only record for Warner Brothers, Sahm would form The Tex-Mex Trip, a band made up of Texas players and two members of Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s April 2022’s Record of the Month, and you can read all about it here.
Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados
After being dropped from Warner, Sahm spent the late ’70s and ’80s bouncing around between blues and country-focused indies. His finest album from this era is Texas Rock for Country Rollers, an album credited to Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados. A sometimes-sprawling country-fried southern rock jammer, it was Austin rock at its finest. You could plug any song from the record into Dazed and Confused, and it’d work.
Sahm’s 1980 traditional-leaning blues album, Hell of a Spell, was technically the first LP he released under his own name, more than 20 years after his first hit. It’s not his finest, but the title track shows the possibilities of if Sahm had leaned into the honky-tonk blues that Stevie Ray Vaughan was experimenting with at the time.
Sahm’s greatest commercial and artistic success came with 1990’s self-titled debut from his conjunto “supergroup” Texas Tornados. The band — featuring Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers and Freddy Fender — recorded their debut in both Spanish and English, and was the idealized version of the project that Sahm started with Mendocino. They perfectly blended regional Texas sounds with the mainstream, and won a Grammy and hit the Billboard charts for their troubles. It’s a semi-forgotten — these days — masterpiece, and one you need to get familiar with right now.
Sahm died in 1999, but he lives on in every album and song that blends rock and country, since he was the first to ever do it.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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