By Enrique Lopetegui
Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of Doug Sahm, the legendary leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados. The Current spoke to the two persons who probably knew him best.
Augie Meyers: “He was number one.”
How did you two meet?
My mom had a grocery store when I was 12 years old and his folks used to buy groceries there. He liked baseball and football cards. So we used to trade cards and we got to talking. I was 12 and he was 11. That’s how we met.
Did you talk about music?
Oh, yes. He was playing music when he was eight, nine years old. He used to play fiddle, steel guitar… And I was playing piano a little bit at 12. But I didn’t have a band. He was playing around with different people. I got my first [band] when I was 15, and he already had a band. After he played and I played we would get together and go out and eat and talk and hang out. In 1964, the Dave Clark Five came into town. I got the only Vox organ in town; actually, in America. My band opened the show, and then Doug’s band played, and then the Dave Clark Five came out. Huey Meaux, the producer, was there, and he said, “You both have long hair. Let’s put a band together.” That’s how the Sir Douglas Quintet came together.
I saw him twice with the Tornados, and he knocked my socks off both times. Was he always such a powerhouse?
He was always that way. He was a great songwriter and guitar player and got a tremendous voice. He could play country music, fiddle, steel guitar, sax, lead guitar… You name it.
Despite its name and early press images, the SDQ had a unique sound…
With the SDQ I said, “We got to do something different. What don’t you get a bajo [sexto] and I’ll get an accordion? Let’s do some conjunto music.” He got one made at Macías Brothers, and we started doing conjunto music. My dad used to listen to nothing but conjunto.
Had anybody mix conjunto and rock before?
You told me this story a million times, but I don’t get tired of hearing it. Tell me about 'She’s about a mover.'
That was the first song we recorded. We played it at a club called the Blue Note in San Antonio. There was a very sexy dancer on the floor, and I said, “She’s a body mover.” So [Doug] wrote a song called 'She’s a body mover,' but the record label wouldn’t play it because they said it sounded nasty. So we changed it to 'She’s about a mover.'
In between SDQ and his solo work, he did some producing, and…
Yeah, he produced Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Louie and the Lovers…
We did an album with him.
Remember which one?
I don’t even know. It was back in 69-70 in San Francisco. [Augie refers to 1968’s From St. Louie to Frisco, which lists Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers as musicians. “We didn’t produce the whole album, but a few of the tracks,” he’d say later.]
What do you remember of that session?
Chuck Berry didn’t like white people. He was very arrogant. I saw him a couple of years ago in Italy. He’s an asshole.
Are you on the record?
Then came the Tornados…
I had a record out, ‘Hey baby qué pasó,’ with Atlantic records. They weren’t doing a good job, so I bought my contract and publishing back from them. And then Warner called Doug to put a Tex-Mex supergroup together. So Doug turned to me and said, “Man, let’s do a supergroup,” and I said, “OK,” and he said, “Who are you going to get?” I said, “I don’t know,” and he said, “I’ll pick Freddy Fender,” and I said, “I’ll pick Flaco Jiménez.” So we put the quintet together as a back-up group, the bass, drum and all that. Then we went to San Francisco and sold out four shows. People were lining up around the corner to get in. And Warner said, “Hey, man, whatever you want, we’ll make an album and we’ll give you as much money as you want.” And that’s how the Tornados came about.
How were the rehearsals? There were four strong personalities in the room…
“[Doug] and Freddy always argued, but they loved each other. Freddy wanted to play and sing certain tunes, and Doug would say, “No, we’re going to play these songs.” And we played the songs that Doug wanted, because those were the songs we should’ve played. I was always called the peacemaker.
Did Doug usually win the arguments?
Because he just moved better.
His passing was unexpected, wasn’t it?
It was a total surprise. I was in Arizona playing with Freddy. My son called me and told me, “Doug died.” He was in Taos, New Mexico. Heart attack.
I’ve read he was pretty healthy, supposedly. Did he do any…
No, no, no. He had high blood pressure and got into a hot tub, in the altitude. You don’t get in a hot tub when you have high blood pressure. That’s what killed him.
He was such an important force, both musically and personally. How did the band reacted?
He was number one. We just had to sit back and regroup. We didn’t know what we were going to do.
When you think of him, do you think Texas, San Antonio, or Austin?
He was from San Antonio. He just lived in Austin because he thought it was a better music scene.
Besides the obvious physical resemblance, are there any musical similarities between Doug and Shawn?
Oh, yeah. When I look at him, I think Doug is there. He plays like Doug and he sounds like Doug.
Do you have any unreleased recorded material?
Oh yeah, we have a lot of stuff. Hell, I have a whole album that’s never been released. It’s got to be mixed. Little by little I’m going to put it out.
How many songs?
Oh, about 10 or 12.
Who recorded those songs?
Me and Doug. Way back, 20 years ago. Last Friday we just got a Gold album in Norway, for stuff we did 20 years ago. It’s called Scandinavian years. They re-released it and it went Platinum. Some were under Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, some under SDQ. There are probably 30 or 40 albums we did.
When was the last time you two spoke?
I talked to him on a Monday. He said he was going to New Mexico and I was going to Arizona, and that’s the last time we spoke. I told him, “Be back, because we have to take pictures for Texas, we play Friday.”
* * *
Shawn Sahm: “He would’ve freaked out with the new [Tornados] album.”
What your earliest and latest memory of your dad?
My earliest days are very young. Three, four. If you look at the cover of Rolling Stone, in 1968, I was on the cover with my dad when I was htree. I remember those days, I remember running around in California with Dad. When I was a kid I always wanted to play his Gold records. He had a ‘Mendocino’ Gold record, and I always cried because I wanted to play it on the turntable… (laughs)
The actual Gold record?
Yes! As a little child I wanted to put on the Gold record, and they would say, “No, no! You can’t do that!" My earliest memories are family stuff, hanging out with dad. Me, Dawn, and Shandon, the three of us and my father were really close. I just remember running around with Pop.
And the latest?
Honestly, right before he passed away, when he was heading out to Taos. This story has gotten changed around a lot, as it happens with people and times goes by, the story gets changed a bit, embellished, but the truth of the matter… You know, I live off HWY 10, you take 10 all the way right to Taos and right to California. He came by my house on the way to Taos. So my latest memory is him sitting there at the table with me. We were talking about everything from personal business stuff, because we had a company together. That, family stauff, and I remember asking him if he was OK. Because it dawned on me that he looked like he didn’t feel well. We thought he might’ve had the flu, and he said, “No, no, I’m fine.” And then he continued on to Taos after staying for a couple of hours. That would be my last memory of him. I remember looking right in his eyes, man.
I remember seeing him twice in LA. We had gone to see Flaco Jiménez, but your dad stole the show both times. He was amazing.
You know? Flaco is so awesome about giving Dad credit for introducing him to the rock and roll side of things. My dad took Flaco up to New York in 1972 or '73 for the Doug Sahm and Band record, with Bob Dylan, and Dr. John. That really introduced Flaco, and these are Flaco’s words, that really introduced him to a whole new world. He said, “Shawn, your dad was the one who said, 'You can take what you do and bring it into my world, and play the rock and roll with the accordion. The accordion is an instrument that has no boundaries.” When you think about it, Dad and Flaco getting together, having that conversation, that was a quintessential little moment, wasn’t it? Of course, Dad and Augie [Meyers] were doing that for a long time as well. You can hear tracks like ‘Nuevo Laredo,’ from the [SDQ's] Together after five album, from probably 1970 [right]… Those were quintessential Tex-Mex songs. We still play ‘Nuevo Laredo’ today, and that’s Tex-Mex to the bone.
Augie just told me they got a Gold album for something they did like 20 years ago.
No, no… OK, yeah, yeah… You know Dad: There were always a million people playing on his records. We just did this Doug Sahm’s tribute for Dad’s birthday on the 6th. It was sold out, just last week. We had Jimmy Vaughn, and Augie, and what I did was this: I set up a special Gold record presentation where the fan club had come down and presented the award to the guys, and I accepted the award. It was really cool. But that was from records in the 80s. Last year the records went number two, Gold and Platinum.
But are we talking about the Norway sales?
Scandinavia. Right, exactly.
Musically speaking, what did he teach you, specifically?
Honestly, at the end of the day, I got it all from him. You learn from a variety of sources, you always do. I learned from the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles… Hell: Old school Elton John. I’m trying to paint different pictures of music styles. I like all kinds of different styles. But the things you grow up with seem to be the things that matter most. And I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t Doug Sahm’s music that has been embedded the deepest in me since I was a child. I mean, the first song I learned to play was ‘Mendocino.’ You can see my baby books, where my mom would write it. I was just obsessed with my dad’s music. I always wear his influence on my sleeve, and rightfully so. It’s my father, and it would be ridiculous for me to deny it. At the same time, I also think I have my own things to say, and I write my own songs. Me and Daddy used to write songs together all the time. He used to call me his “own little songwriting machine.” One day I had this song, ‘One and only,’ that the Tornados cut. The very beginning of the song was very similar to one of his songs. So he said, “Hey, son, that’s a great song, man! I think you got that one line from me, man!” I said, “Pop, you kidding? I got them all from you, man!” So he hugged me and said, “That’s my boy!” He’d also tell me, “When we sing harmonies, it all sounds like just one voice.” And I would say, “Well, it is, pop!” And he’d give me a hug.
What’s the status of the Tornados album?
Well, I’m working on it right now. The guys have been great, Augie and Flaco and all the Tornado guys.
Will it include the last tracks recorded by Freddy Fender?
Oh, yeah! It’s great. I produced the record, I worked on it for a few years, obviously right before Freddy passed away. It’s a new Tornado reunion album, and the cool thing about it is that Freddy and the guys a few years back allowed me to basically go with my gut instinct and trusted me to make a great record and put it all together for them. We have about 12 tracks of what I call a quintessential Tornado record. When people hear this they’ll hear all the guys, to me, at the top of their game. When you listen to it, you understand why they are who they are. It’s Augie, Freddy, and Flaco at the top of their game.
What do you think would have been you father’s reaction?
That’s a very good question, and we have talked about that. Me and Augie had this conversation before. And we both think Dad would freak out, we would absolutely love it. When Freddy goes… [he imitates Freddy’s singing], dad would just be jumping around the room. He would’ve loved this record. The album will include an unreleased song of Dad’s, everyone’s going to be in this damn record.
Any more unreleased tracks for the future?
Oh, yeah… But we don’t just want to put stuff out: We want to put great stuff out, and we have plenty of them. It will all see the light of day at the appropriate time.
Augie told me that your dad had high blood pressure, and…
Well… That’s kind of assuming a lot. Augie has been telling the story that [Doug’s] girlfriend called and there was no answer… I’m actually the one that called his girlfriend and gave her the news.
You know better than me: Augie loved your Dad. But his memory sometimes…
Oh, no, me and Augie are family too. We’re real close. But sometimes I have to tell him, “No, Oogie Boogie, it didn’t happen like that…” And he goes, “Oh, Shawnee, OK.” Sometimes stories get turned around. The truth, or the simple version of the truth is this: Remember that I told you that at my house [Doug] looked like he had the flu? Well, he’d been sick all week, apparently. Here’s the real version. I mean, yes, he did sit in a hot tub, but it was more than just that.
But he did have high blood pressure? I’m asking you because I have high blood pressure myself, I want to know!
In hindsight, he may have, but he never discussed this with us. A lot of the shit we found out kind of, you know… He had a little problem with his finger, little issues. We never knew Dad was sick. He was telling Augie he was sick. The truth of the matter is that none of us knew. No one can tell you they knew dad was sick and that he was going to pass away. It was a shock to all of us. He had some little health issues, and age and the flu partly contributed to them. But the truth of the matter is that he was sick from the time he left my house to the time he got to Taos. It was a series of things he did that didn’t add up correctly. He went all week with being sick. I remember him saying, “I’m feeling better.” I even offered to come get him a couple of times, and he would say, “Oh, yeah, I might let you drive me back down,” and then he would say, “No, I’m OK.” He did have some health issues, but overall he was healthy. It was getting close to 60 [degrees] in Taos, it was getting hot, and things started happening. But none of us knew there was anything wrong like this.