Doug Sahm Tribute – Antone’s (Austin, TX)
It was exactly the sort of scene Doug Sahm would have immediately jumped into the middle of and made his own: a tornadic after-hours jam fearlessly mixing Tex-Mex, blues, country, rock, jazz and R&B in front of an audience willing to careen along with every stylistic twist and turn. And, even in Sahm’s unfortunate absence, the scene was his anyway as the first of a two-night Sahm tribute marathon at Antone’s rolled on long past last call.
The atmosphere of the tribute perfectly reflected the irrepressible Sahm and his ebullient personality, as it was a fun-loving celebration of his life instead of a solemn acknowledgment of death. Much of the mourning — and it was considerable and inescapable in Austin — had in fact already been done. Fans and friends filled the local clubs upon hearing the announcement of his death on November 18; for days, it was almost impossible to enter a venue, no matter what its musical style, that didn’t have Sahm’s music playing and his picture prominently displayed in a position of honor. At his funeral November 23 in his native San Antonio, a ballpark figure of a thousand people overflowed into the parking lot of Sunset Memorial Funeral Home.
The tribute concert opened with a straightforward, dance-happy set of classic conjunto by Los Pinkys. The accordion-driven Tex-Mex standards never quite generated the physical response from the audience they deserved, but their sounds served well to establish the proper cross-cultural ambiance for the proceedings. Bayou blues eccentric Lazy Lester flew in from Detroit for the show and followed Los Pinkys with a characteristically erratic but entertaining set, backed solidly by the rhythm section of drummer George Rains and bassist Speedy Sparks, both of whom spent decades working with Sahm.
Just as Lazy Lester’s energy level seemed to be flagging, club owner Clifford Antone pushed Charlie Sexton onstage, and he immediately escalated the action with the sort of sharp-edged guitar lines that originally brought him to public attention as a young blues prodigy. When Sexton subsequently took over from the vocal mike from Lazy Lester and was joined by legendary San Antonio saxophonist Rocky Morales, a musician Sahm rightly held in lifelong admiration, the show hit its stride, transcending tribute status and locking into a groove so attuned to Sahm that it was hard not to visualize him striding toward the stage. Antone, in fact, openly stated what was in many minds when he said, “I keep watching the back door waiting for Doug to walk in.”
Once the groove was in place, things only got better. Fabulous Thunderbirds harmonica hero Kim Wilson, in from California for the show, took advantage of the opportunity to sing in front of Sahm’s beloved West Side Horns, and the results were as fiery and funky as anything seen since the Texas Tornado himself was front-and-center with the group. Wilson later returned to the stage with Joe Ely for as fine a mini-set as either has performed in Austin in recent memory. Ely kicked off with a West Texas take on “Folsom Prison Blues”, powered by Texas Tornados drummer Ernie Durawa. With Wilson blowing up a storm on harmonica, Ely blasted through the set, closing with a rocking “That’s All Right, Mama” that both Doug and Elvis would have appreciated.
Among other noteworthy performances were a brief set by the Texana Dames and a very rare public appearance as a musician by Antone, who took the stage to play bass, and not too badly, for a couple of tunes.
But the evening’s high point, in both musical and emotional terms, was undoubtedly the extended rave-up rendition of “She’s About A Mover” that filled the stage with family and friends and had the building bouncing to the beat as the audience shouted along with the lyrics, transforming the club into the sort of groovers’ paradise that invariably seemed to materialize in Sahm’s presence. With original Sir Douglas Quintet keyboardist Augie Meyers pumping out the classic chords and Sahm’s son Shawn on lead vocals, the song did much more than just put blissful smiles on faces; its generational outreach joyously tied together four decades of Texas music.