Doug Sahm – Loose-leaf memoirs
In the summer of 1973, Doug Sahm had settled into a rambling, leased wooden house on a tree-shaded hillside above the Soap Creek Saloon out on Bee Caves Road, in what was then rural Austin, Texas. His furnishings were simple: a bed, a table, two chairs, two spoons, two forks, two knives, two plates, a phonograph, hundreds of LPs, several amps, and a number of guitars. The LPs were mostly country classics, blues classics, and jazz standards. Everyone from Bob Wills to J.R. Chatwell, from T-Bone Walker to Lightnin’ Hopkins, from Miles Davis to John Coltrane. And rolling papers, of course. A gallon jar full of the finest Mexican weed available. A refrigerator full of Big Red sodas and Pearl Beer and molding weeks-old tamales. No phone. And, usually, a live-in chick. (Note: “chick” was the operative word then for a female friend of a music star.)
He had been a Texas expatriate for years, after being the subject of a highly publicized rock ‘n’ roll marijuana bust in Corpus Christi, Texas, while a rock star as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet. After years in San Francisco, where he became a prominent bandleader with regular shows at the Fillmore, Sahm had decided to come back home to Texas in 1970. I had done a cover story about his return for Rolling Stone magazine in 1971; he had settled first back in San Antonio (his hometown) and then moved to Austin in 1973.
Anyway, that summer in 1973, Doug and I spent a lot of time together. He was sharing custody of his kids with his ex-wife Violet, and he would bring them over to swim in the pool in my little apartment complex out by Lake Austin. We barbecued ribs and chicken on my Old Smokie and sat out in the sun and drank Pearl beers and talked music while he rolled homegrown smokable tamales.
When Jerry Wexler came down from New York City to Austin on his expedition to find and sign Doug to Atlantic Records, it was, Wexler said, like an early field recording expedition by John or Alan Lomax. Except that they did no recording. It was all hanging out, cruising the streets of Austin and San Antonio in Doug’s big Lincoln towncar, finding legendary musicians such as Spot Barnett and Rocky Morales, delving into stacks of LPs and 45s in obscure record stores on San Antonio’s West Side, dropping into ice houses for cold beers and hot tamales. Then Doug disappeared until it was time to fly to New York City later to cut for Wexler.
He had seldom lived in any one place for very long and still had no phone number. For years, you could leave phone messages for him at the Austin hippie department store Oat Willie’s, where you could also buy a huge variety of rolling papers, underground newspapers from around the country, bongs, tie-dyed T-shirts, patchouli oil, and all manner of hippie paraphernalia. What you would hear back from messages left for Doug invariably began with, “Hey, man, I’m in…”
You never knew where he was or what he was going to do next. Every scene was just over — he had decided that the Austin scene was dead and he was off to Vancouver or Taos or Stockholm or back to “Frisco” or off to Amsterdam. The next place was, his messages always said, “beautiful” and “groovy” and “happening, man!”
Indeed, I am more and more amazed in the wake of Doug’s death last November of the very different versions of his life that are filtering in from around the world; of his various lives as people knew him.
I have many tapes of my interviews with him that go on for days, it seems — indeed many journalists do, and you often read them.
But one day in 1985, Doug was at my apartment in New York City and said he wanted to begin leaving a journal of his life and times.
A few days later, he brought me some pages he had actually written. I had never seen him write anything down before in his life.
On these scrawled notes on yellow legal pad pages are what Sahm intended for a book about his career. Not about his life — he carefully guarded that. I was amazed when I was at the Sahm memorial services at Antone’s in Austin to learn of the existence of a Doug Sahm brother. Doug had never mentioned him to me. Later, a missing sister turned up.
I’ve spent many an hour talking with Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski about the different Doug Sahms that the world knew. Or didn’t know. I was astounded to also learn that Patoski had moved back home to Texas, to Austin, after reading my Rolling Stone story on Doug and had decided that it was “safe” for him to come home, now that Doug had done so and that Doug had made peace with his past and his environment.
If that sounds ancient and quaint now, consider that the cultural wars of the late ’60s and early ’70s were very real. The counterculture versus the “straight” culture, the anti-war movement, the hippies versus redneck thing in Texas especially — all of those had literally split families and friendships down the middle and sent flocks of Texas kids to live in Canada, San Francisco, Amsterdam and other more-user friendly spots.