The old friend who'd arrived out of the blue an hour before was
standing now on the small landing outside my front door. He was
confused. His head bowed with uncertainty while his neck tensed with
determination. After 20 years of trying, he'd just left his old home
state. "I hate Texas," he said. "I never want to hear about Texas again.
Texas has ruined my life." It was a chorus he'd repeated several times
during his visit, but he'd stopped just out the door to say it again as
if a moment's relenting or a single false step would be the crack in his
shell through which he'd fall all the way back to San Antonio. "We'll go
drink beer," he said, finally trudging down the flight of stairs that
led to my flat, "but none of this sentimental lollygagging about when we
knew each other in Texas."
I didn't see him for quite a while after that, but from what I heard
he was starting to tempt fate. He took to calling old buddies and older
girlfriends who were still living back in the forbidden territory. He
wore cowboy boots to a party. He was going to write a book about Texas
bluesmen. Six months later, when we finally ended up drinking beer
together, the midnight hour found us lollygagging sentimentally about
Texas. My friend had been listening to Mendicino, then the latest album
by the Sir Douglas Quintet, a group led by Doug Sahm.
"All those songs about leaving Texas," he moaned. "They were the
ones that started me calling everybody. How am I supposed to listen to a
song called 'Lord, I'm Just a Country Boy in this Great Big Freaky City'
and not get homesick?" I sure didn't know the answer to that one.
"You can't just leave Texas," he went on, "the way you can just
leave Idaho." He started talking about another song called "Texas Me."
He stopped to guzzle what must have been his hundredth beer and before I
knew it was letting fly with the chorus in a scratchy voice that swooped
unpredictably from bass to tenor:
"Now I'm up here in Sausileeeeto
Wonderin' where I
And I wonder what happened to that maaaaan
The real old Texas meeeeeee."
He slumped down in his chair, glancing quickly right and left to see
if anyone were staring. I had filled his mug from our pitcher. He
wrapped both hands around the mug, squeezing it so hard his knuckles
turned white. "I don't need goddamn Doug Sahm to tell me about leaving
Texas," he said, "but he sure as hell knows what it's like."
His whole body tensed and for a moment I thought he might crush the
mug with his bare hands. Then his knuckles regained their color. He
looked at me. His face was calm and melancholy, resigned and steady.
"You know," he said in a beer-soaked whisper, "I hate Texas . . . but
it's the only heritage I've got." The next afternoon I bought a copy of
Mendicino for myself.
Doug Sahm learned to play in San Antonio where the music has always
been a blend of various styles—country, rhythm and blues, Latin, even
cajun—a blend refined in country roadhouses or wood frame bars that
serve only beer, or at the kind of high school prom where guys with
slick hair have rented blue and black brocade tuxes, or in "nite" clubs
with fast reputations, places with the kind of ambience that draws Doug
to write sticky, maudlin good-bad songs like "She's Huggin' You But
She's Lookin' At Me."
But coming out of that world he had a national hit, "She's About a
Mover" in 1965. Almost 15 years earlier he had played Nashville's Grand
Ole Opry when he was nine. Through high school he formed his own bands
and also jammed with numerous musicians living in San Antonio and a good
many others who were just passing through. He had one local hit while
still in high school, a chicano hit (!) shortly after graduating, and a
modest string of local and regional hits during the early Sixties. So by
the time "She's About A Mover" started climbing up the national charts,
Doug was just a young kid with 15 years experience as a professional
It was a good thing, too, for he was going to need something to fall
back on. "Mover" 's producer, a Houston record company owner named Huey
Meaux who over the years has recorded some of the best Texas and
Louisiana musical talent, tried to mold Doug's band after the English groups whose songs
were just then starting to dominate the rock and roll airways. He tagged
the band The Sir Douglas Quintet, had them let their hair grow (Meaux
thinks they were the first American band to adopt long hair), and sure
enough they rode "Mover" 's success to a national television appearance
on Hullabaloo, a U.S. tour with James Brown, and a European tour on a
bill with The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. Heady stuff. In just
six months Doug had gone from a San Antonio barroom musician to a rock
and roll star. The swirl broke up the band; most of them wanted to go
back to Texas and they did. Doug drifted out to California where around
1966, four discoveries had recently been made: peace, love, rock, and
acid. He started writing the songs about Texas-to-California culture
shock that had called so loudly to my friend.
Doug made three albums in California. After the third. The Sir
Douglas Quintet Together After Five , for which Doug wrote songs
like "Seguin," "Dallas Alice," "Nuevo Laredo," it was no surprise to
learn that he had moved back to Texas. Evidently it was the right thing
to do. Doug had never seemed very comfortable as a flower child—any song
he ever did about groovy days in the park digging vibrations is
terrible. But almost everything else he chooses to play, and it could be
a cajun stomp to a country waltz to big band blues, sounds just fine.
The music that flowed out of San Francisco in those days was influenced
by blues and rhythm and blues and country-western, the same elements
that form the major strain of Doug's music. But they aren't his
influences so much as his meat and potatoes; what he plays is
blues, is country-western, and coming back