Song of the Week – At the Crossroads, Sir Douglas Quintet

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Michael Paquette.  Michael has become a regular!

Doug Sahm began his career as a country singer as a young boy, performing at age eleven with Hank Williams Sr. in one of his last appearances.  He crafted his musical skills and style in the barrios, dance halls, juke joints, and parking lots across the Lone Star State. He formed his first band, the Knights, in high school when he realized he’d rather play music than football.  He assembled the Sir Douglas Quintet with his childhood friend Augie Meyers and original band members Jack Barber, Frank Morin, and Johnny Perez, in 1964. Their musical style was heavily influenced by the sound of bluesmen Jimmy Reed, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Lightnin Hopkins. Sahm had listened to these artists and their ilk laying down their blues styles in Fort Worth and San Antonio as had many others who would go on to perform authentic Texan music and refused to compromise their style to become top 40 artists.  The music scene at that time included Boz Scaggs, Johnny Winter, Freddie King, and Janis Joplin.  This was an emerging blues and TexMex sound that was also influenced by the Texas swing of Bob Wills, the guitar blues of T-Bone Walker, and the Mexican-American rockers like Don Santiago Jiménez of San Antonio which was Doug Sahm’s hometown.  

Much of the music of the Sir Douglas Quintet was a bit too far out to be classified as Pop.  The band had a couple of hits with their first single “She’s About a Mover”, and the classic “Mendocino” from the album of the same name which they recorded after moving to San Francisco in the mid-‘60s.  The song I have chosen from their pantheon of great blues and white soul material is “At the Crossroads.”

This song was from the album as Mendocino (#27 in 1969) and peaked on the charts at #104.  It contains the great line, “You can teach me lots of lessons; you can bring me a lot of gold; but you just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.”

I lived in Texas for many years and ran across some people from all walks of life who loved Doug Sahm.  He was a beloved artist whose band performed in venues and rooms for a mix of Black, Latino, and White audiences where the only color in the room was the music.  I had the pleasure of enjoying musical acts in clubs, bars, Christmas craft shows, dance halls, concert halls, and arenas.  I heard several artists whose music was clearly influenced by SDQ including Marcia Ball, Carolyn Wonderland, Alejandro Escovedo, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and even the longtime county act Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys.  With its rolling Chicano rhythms and pumping Farfisa organ SDQ influenced numerous new wave acts including Elvis Costello who patterned both his band and his vocals after the SDQ.  

Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers formed the conjunto band Texas Tornadoes in 1989 with Flaco Jiménez, and Freddy Fender, a band that continues to tour today.  Sadly, Doug Sahm died of a heart attack in 1999 in his sleep in Taos, New Mexico.  He was 58.  But his fusion of Texas C & W, Western Swing, Texas Blues, South Texas German polkas, and Tex Mex music lives on in artists who remain devoted to his sound.  

Enjoy… until next week.

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