Doug Sahm Day – Camargo Park / Tribute To Augie Meyers – Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (San Antonio, TX)
You’d never know it from the history books, but San Antonio had an incredibly vital rock scene in the late 1950s and early ’60s. With so much military in the region, there were plenty of musicians and a huge audience base. Countless bands — a surprising number of them racially mixed — released singles on local indies such as Harlem, Chief, Tanner and TnT. The Mexican-flavored music ranged from breakneck Little Richard rockers to sweet, swampy ballads and triplets.
Indeed, both the sound and the scene were similar to that in New Orleans, except the San Antonio artists fared even worse than their Crescent City counterparts; if anything, the Alamo City music biz was even more fly-by-night, and the city was even more remote from national centers. Plus, there was the language barrier of a largely Hispanic scene. The only national hit to come out of San Antonio during this time was Sunny & the Sunglows’ “Talk To Me”, #11 in 1963.
Until, that is, Doug Sahm (with Augie Meyers) put an English-Invasion-spin on the sound with the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About A Mover”, which reached #13 in 1965. In one form or another, Doug and Augie continued to carry the flame for classic S.A. sounds for the rest of the century. Doug’s death in 1999 was an incalculable loss, though Augie carries on.
Early in 2002, veteran Chicano bluesman Randy Garibay, a great guitarist and singer, also died. And though a few names from the golden era (Charlie Alvarado, Ray Liberto, Sonny Ace) are still around town, they seldom play. About the only time you can hear that sound today (aside from Augie, sometimes) is when the West Side Horns play. The group, featuring Rocky Morales, Spot Barnett and Louis Bustos on saxes and Al Gomez on trumpet, recently released its first album, San Quilmas, an irresistibly soulful slice of Tejano R&B and jazz.
It was Augie and the Horns, with a large supporting cast, who carried these two shows recognizing (finally) at least some of San Antonio’s masters. Doug Sahm Day was originally conceived as a program of live music (including national stars), celebrity softball and the like at the ballpark of the AA minor league San Antonio Missions baseball team, but was scaled down to local musicians paying tribute from a stage at Camargo Park across the highway. The event was a little short on planning and promotion, plus it turned out to be a bitter cold and windy day. The result was a paid audience probably no larger, for most of the day, than the number of record labels Sahm appeared on over his long and storied career. But you sure couldn’t fault the music itself.
Certain people besides the Horns, including Doug’s favorite rhythm section of drummer Ernie Durawa and bassist Speedy Sparks, turned up on various sets. Featured performers ranged from Tortilla Flats, an obscure Sahm tribute band from Austin, to Little Joe Hernandez, the once and always king of Tex-Mex, who appeared several times as a Texas Tornado in the months before Doug’s death. But with few exceptions, the best moments came when the music was most Tejano-blue, and that was usually when the West Side Horns were on the stage.
Tenormen Morales and Barnett, the patriarch of San Antonio R&B (and in whose band Doug first played professionally), sat in with Joe King Carrasco. With gems such as “Tell Me”, “Rock Esta Noche” and “Mezcal Road”, a polka that got the old-timers up and dancing, they reprised the Tex-Mex Rock-Roll sound of Carrasco’s very first album (recently reissued, finally) with his pre-New-Wave band El Molino. The West Side Horns as a unit then made their first appearance of day, supplementing Lucky Tomblin & Lucky 13, a band fronted by the event’s organizer that sounds a little too much like a less-inspired version of Sahm’s own big-band approach.
Then the Horns got their own set, with blues guitarist Johnny Nicholas sitting in. They wasted no time diving into “Rainbow Riot”, the lead instrumental off San Quilmas, a huge riffing shuffle featuring a squealing tenor solo from Morales followed by a squalling one from Barnett. Their all-too-brief set jumped effortlessly from Barnett to Morales to the deep organ grooves of Arturo “Sauce” Gonzalez.