Some places can be easily identified by the music that is made there. Think Nashville, or Detroit, or Memphis, or San Francisco. The same can’t be said for Texas.
Whether talking about Austin or San Antonio or Houston, there is no identifiable sound for the cities of Texas. Doug Sahm is a product of the Lone Star State, and his music captures all of its incredible diversity. In his songs, you can hear traces of country music, the blues, Tex Mex, jazz, rock and roll and even R&B. His music is uniquely American in that he grabs from virtually every element of indigenous American styles, and folds them together into something that is uniquely his own.
Sahm was playing music almost as soon as he started to walk, learning to play steel guitar, mandolin and violin before he started first grade. He had a regional hit before he was twelve years old, a circumstance that led him to share the stage with Hank Williams on the night of his last performance on December 19, 1952. Such was his precocious talent that the Grand Ole Opry offered him a steady spot on their program when he was only thirteen years old, but opted to stay in junior high school.
By 1965, Sahm was twenty-four and still trying to break out of the diverse regional music scene of Texas. At that time, all of America was reacting to the British invasion, a situation that inspired Sahm to form a band of his own. In an attempt to appear British, he took the name Sir Douglas, and had his first national hit with the incredibly catchy song “She’s About a Mover.”
A drug bust caused the band to break up, and Sahm eventually found himself drawn to the cultural explosion that was taking place in San Francisco. Some time afterward, his old bandmate, Augie Meyers rejoined him and the classic sound of the Sir Douglas Quintet was reborn, due primarily to the instantly identifiable Vox organ sound of Meyers.
The album “Mendocino” is the product of their rejuvenation, and it contains every element of their Texas heritage. Despite the multiple influences, the music remains instantly identifiable, with an upbeat, jaunty feel that makes the collection of songs contagious. Sahm is fundamentally a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so even when singing about relationship problems, as he does on almost the entirety of side one, the mood is mostly upbeat and positive, with multiple references to his Texas roots.
The album’s title track celebrates Sahm’s relocation, but although his feet may have been planted in California, his heart remained fixed in Texas. The song titles alone tell most of the story, from “Texas Me” to “Lawd, I’m just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City.” “At the Crossroads” may be a kiss-off to an ex, but he concludes the chorus by singing “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.” His allegiance to his home state is obvious, but the music really speaks for itself, making the point that Doug Sahm may be a product of Texas, but he is a national treasure.