A campaign builds to get Doug Sahm in rock's hall of fame
Clifford Antone and Doug Sahm didn't become friends until the mid-'70s, but Sahm made a strong impression on Antone a full decade before that. Antone, proprietor of the legendary Austin blues club that bears his name, was a Port Arthur teenager in 1965 when Sahm and his red-hot Sir Douglas Quintet - riding high on the success of their breakthrough single, "She's About a Mover" - came to play at the local skating rink.
"We knew 'She's About A Mover' and all that, but we thought they were from England," Antone recalls. "It was before long hair and all that, and they were all long hairs. No one in Port Arthur had ever dreamed of having long hair. It was real cool, and real different. But the soul of the music was Texas, and we didn't know it, but we dug the soul."
Though Sahm's restless sense of adventure would eventually lead him to San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Canada, that sense of Texas soul never left his music. In fact, the farther Sahm got from his home state - and his native San Antonio - the more effusive he became about them. Consider his ouput from the late-'60s and early '70s, when he and the Quintet were part of Northern California's back-to-nature hippie community. In "Westside Blues Again," Sahm laments: "I should have never left my home in San Antone." In the intro to "I'm Glad For Your Sake (But I'm Sorry For Mine)," he wistfully remembers the friends he left behind in the Lone Star State. And, most famously, with "At the Crossroads," he insists, "You just can't live in Texas if you don't have a lot of soul."
Sahm had so many separate careers and explored so many forms of music, no particular era or genre truly conveys his greatness. It's only when you look at the totality of his work (a challenge, considering that he's never been granted a definitive, career-spanning CD retrospective) that you see him as Antone does.
"I've never seen anybody who could play as many styles of music correctly, legitimately, as Doug did," Antone says. "Nobody on earth. I've never seen anybody who could go from Wes Montgomery to Guitar Slim to Louisiana swamp-pop to the Tejano stuff to Big Bill Broonzy to Leadbelly, and do it right."
Sahm passed away five years ago at the age of 58, and with the 3rd annual Doug Sahm Day scheduled for November 18 at Antone's, his most avid supporters are trying to build momentum for a grassroots campaign to get Sahm inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They've launched the drive in the form of a petition to Hall of Fame nominators, citing Sahm as "a tireless creative force, and a musician and innovator in the best tradition of rock and roll and American popular music." As of Friday, November 12, the online petition (dougsahmday.com) listed 290 signatures, including notable musicians such as Peter Holsapple (ex-dBs), Greg Dulli (ex-Afghan Whigs), Sid Griffin (ex-Long Ryders), and Greg Cartwright, frontman for acclaimed garage-rock trio the Reigning Sound. Next to his name, Cartwright also included this apt question for Hall of Fame voters: "While you're at it, could you remove the Mamas & Papas?"
The idea for a Sahm petition drive came from David Whitman, with the Austin-based Milam and Co. "It won't get him on the ballot, but it increases awareness," Whitman says. "It's to create a groundswell, to find the key players and start a buzz about it."
Since Hall inductees tend to be judged on each separate incarnation of their career (Eric Clapton was inducted three times: with the Yardbirds, Cream, and as a solo artist), Sahm could actually be penalized for the rich, varied nature of his catalog. His chances depend on Hall nominators taking everything into account: the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Texas Tornados, and his solo career.
Like much of his generation, Sahm was a white kid liberated by the blues, but his South Texas roots also gave him a command of country and conjunto that always set him apart. On two albums of uptown, horn-driven blues recorded for Antone's Records, Antone dealt exclusively with Sahm's bluesy side. He says, "When Doug wanted to and we had the right band, he could play the big-band blues - Guitar Slim, T-Bone Walker, Bobby Bland - as well as anyone."
The two men bonded over their shared love of baseball and Louisiana swamp-pop. When Antone reflects on Sahm, it isn't long before he becomes emotional.
"What I realized at the funeral is that all the guys who really knew him all thought that Doug was their best friend. I think he was my best friend, and guys in Scandinavia and San Francisco all think he was their best friend.
"I miss him more every day. He played on my birthday every year with his big band. We were all so heartbroken and it doesn't get better, it gets worse. We all need him so bad. He made everyone's life complete, and that's a helluva thing to say about someone." •