On Saturday night, musicians and friends of the late Doug Sahm will gather to honor his music and his life, showcased in Joe Nick Patoski’s documentary about the San Antonio-born music icon. TPR’s Jack Morgan spoke to the director about his story of Sahm.
It wasn’t just any 11-year-old who could get on stage with Hank Williams Sr. and that, at what was once one of Austin’s best-known music venues and home to the stars — the Skyline Club. But in December 1952, at the age of 11 and a month or more so, “Little” Doug Sahm did.
Having made his country radio debut at five, and released a record earlier that year, Sahm was already a veteran showman, and quite the prodigy. Williams Sr., incidentally, died two weeks after that final stage performance, of heart failure brought on by alcoholism, a dissipated 29. In Sahm though, a star had been born.
The Skyline Club at N. Lamar Blvd is long gone, razed to the ground in 1989, 10 years before Sahm himself died of a heart attack in a New Mexico motel, but on Saturday night, Sahm will live again.
The Paramount Theater on Austin’s Congress Avenue will be filled with musicians and friends of Sahm, who will remember his life through the music he wrote, and a film directed by Joe Nick Patoski.
Patoski is a Texas writer who’s spent decades documenting the Texas music scene. He’s written books about Willie Nelson, Selena and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Texas High School Football. Now he’s produced this documentary about Sahm, called Sir Doug And The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.
On Wednesday, when we met at the Paramount, Patoski was clear that this was a project he would have got to sooner or later. “Doug Sahm is this musician, and certainly a character that’s so close to my heart. And it’s been that way since She’s About A Mover in 1965 and when I got to meet him in 1973. And I really do think that when it comes to Texas music, this is the one person who can play all of Texas sounds. No one, no one comes close.”
Considered a classic, She’s About A Mover, released in 1965, was written by Sahm and performed by the Sir Douglas Quintet (originally, Sir Douglas), the group he formed in 1964 with Augie Meyers, Jack Barber, Frank Morin and Johnny Perez.
Patoski explained how Sahm first learned to expand his circle of music. “As a teenager, he lives across the field from the Eastwood Country club, so he’s watching T Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown. And at 16, he’s the only white guy in a black and brown R & B band fronted by Spot Barnett. You can’t make this stuff up!”
Patoski is a running fount of stories on Sahm, who was known as someone who proselytized through music all of Texas’ different cultures. One of Sahm’s big efforts was to try and expose Conjunto music to a wider audience.
Here’s Patoski on Flaco Jiménez and Sahm, two of San Antonio’s finest musicians. Jiménez co-founded the Texas Tornadoes with Sahm, Meyers and Freddy Fender, of Before The Next Teardrop Falls fame. “He [Jiménez] tells the story of Doug always coming around and bothering him and saying, ‘let’s you and me play.’ And Doug could play the Bajo Sexto, which is not easy to play, but is essential to Conjunto. So he proved to Flaco that he could play it. And then he took Flaco to New York to play with Doctor John, and Bob Dylan and basically, Flaco got introduced to the world through that.”
Sir Doug And The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove is filled with archival performance footage and interviews, as well as many people’s current takes on the role Sahm played in American music. The film will also be making the Film Festival circuit over the next few months.
For more on Joe Nick Patoski go here.