To the vast majority of the world, the late Doug Sahm means “She’s About a Mover,” his 1965 hit with the Sir Douglas Quintet, and not much else. For others, there may be some degree of familiarity with the subsequent Texas Tornados.
But in Texas, and especially Austin, Sahm is a legend and iconic figure. And he’s one well worthy of a film — Joe Nick Patoski’s loving Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, which premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival — and of an all-star tribute concert, held Saturday night (March 21) at the Parmount Theatre. Both made a convincing case for the potency of Sahm’s body of music and his legacy. Concert co-producer (and SXSW senior director) Louis Black promised that the week’s events were “the beginning of a campaign.”
I don’t want … people saying ‘Who’s that?’ anymore,” Black says. “This is rebuilding one of the great American musical legacies.”
All construction projects should be as much fun as the “A Gathering of the Tribes” tribute, then. The salute never lost steam over the course of its three hours and 20 minutes, thanks to brisk pacing and a genuine affection for Sahm (who died in 1999 at the age of 58) and empathy for his music that was displayed by all of the participants. They included Steve Earle, Charlie Sexton, Rosie Flores, C.C. Adcock, film director Robert Rodriguez and his band Chingon, and the current Texas Tornados. It was led by Sahm’s son Shawn and featuring keyboardist Augie Myers, who was also part of the Sir Douglas Quintet. The show morphed from smooth execution to seat-of-the-pants improvising, the latter of which certainly befitted the late Sahm’s wilder side.
You could throw a dart at any of the (count ’em) 42 song performances and hit a highlight. Texas music history buffs were certainly delighted by reunions of Marcia Ball’s Freda and the Firedogs for a five-song set that opened the nights, and of the Bizarros, who played a rough-and-tumble but spirited “Groovers Paradise.” The procession of singers that fronted an all-star band led by keyboardist and concert music director Michael Ramos all shined, whether it was the Nudie-suited Krayolas vamping through “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” or Flores rocking through “Rolling Rolling,” Terry Allen delivering the New Orleans-flavored “Not That Kat Anymore,” Bill Kirchen digging into a soulful “Think It Over,” Adcock putting four Sahm-related songs together for a medley or the Australian duo Luluc lending its rich harmonies to “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Song.”
The current incarnation of the West Side Horns, inkling original member Louie Bustos, played throughout the night. And Rodriguez’s rendition of “Hey Baby Que Paso” was made more poignant when he dedicated it to a cousin who died earlier Saturday (March 21).
“This music’s gonna lift him up to the heavens,” a choked-up Rodriguez told the crowd.
Earle noted that he had no intentions to come to SXSW this year but couldn’t pass up the invitation to honor his fellow San Antonian — “My own home town rock’n’roll hero for all of my life” — with performances of “The Rains Came” and Earle’s own “San Antonio Girl.”
The Texas Tornados portion of the show tuned into a rolling all-star jam, with Shawn Sahm, who’s inherited his father’s live-wire, raconteur nature, directing a set of favorites that included “Who Were You Thinking Of” and “Down on the Border,” with Earle returning for “San Antone,” Sexton singing “Mendocino” and Joe “King” Carrasco tearing into “”Adios Mexico.” Roy Head came from Dallas and performed his “Treat Her Right” like a Texan Tom Jones, and, forced to stretch, Shawn Sahm pulled out some of his dad’s choice deep cuts such as “Meet Me in Stockholm” and “At the Crossroads,” along with a couple of repeats (“Texas Tornado” and “Groovers Paradise”).
The finale? What else but “She’s About a Mover,” with a cast of (seeming) thousands on stage and Sexton and Earle joining the younger Sahm on lead vocals and Kirchen and Myers playing solos. It was the perfect — and only — cap to show that, as a campaign launch or simply a Texas historical event, will most certainly become part of SXSW’s lore of memorable artist tributes.