25th Anniversary Issue
Current 25: Shawn Sahm talks about the man who personified the best of Texas music
Published: June 1, 2011
When Doug Sahm unexpectedly died on November 18, 1999, he left a huge hole in the Texas music scene. Besides being the undisputed leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados, his work as a solo artist, session musician, and producer is impressive and well documented. But seeing Sahm live, in concert, was it. He called the shots, no matter who he played with. In 2009, 10 years after his father’s death, the Current talked by phone with Shawn Sahm, the son who now carries his dad’s torch.
What are your earliest and latest memories of your dad?
If you look at the cover of Rolling Stone, in 1968, I was on the cover with my dad when I was three. I remember running around in California with Dad. When I was a kid I always wanted to play his gold records. He had a Mendocino gold record, and I always cried because I wanted to play it on the turntable (laughs).
The actual gold record?
Yes! As a little child I wanted to put on the gold record, and he would say, “No, no! You can’t do that!" Me, Dawn, and Shandon, the three of us and my father were really close.
And the latest?
Right before he passed away, when he was heading out to Taos [New Mexico, where he died in 1999]. This story has gotten changed around a lot, as it happens with people as times goes by. The story gets changed a bit, embellished, but the truth of the matter is this: I live off Hwy. 10, you take 10 all the way right to Taos and right to California. He came by my house on the way to Taos. So my latest memory is him sitting there at the table with me. We were talking about everything, from personal to business stuff, because we had a company together. I remember asking him if he was OK, because it dawned on me that he looked like he didn’t feel well. We thought he might’ve had the flu, and he said, “No, no, I’m fine.” And then he continued on to Taos after staying for a couple of hours. That would be my last memory of him. I remember looking right in his eyes, man.
I remember seeing him twice in L.A. We had gone to see Flaco Jiménez, but your dad stole the show both times. He was amazing.
You know? Flaco is so awesome about giving Dad credit for introducing him to the rock and roll side of things. My dad took Flaco up to New York in 1972 or ’73 for the Doug Sahm and Band record, with Bob Dylan, and Dr. John. That really introduced Flaco, and these are Flaco’s words, that really introduced him to a whole new world. He said, “Shawn, your dad was the one who said, ‘You can take what you do and bring it into my world, and play the rock and roll with the accordion. The accordion is an instrument that has no boundaries.’” When you think about it, Dad and Flaco getting together, having that conversation, that was a quintessential little moment, wasn’t it? Of course, Dad and Augie [Meyers] were doing that for a long time as well. You can hear tracks like “Nuevo Laredo,” from the [Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1970] Together After Five album … Those were quintessential Tex-Mex songs. We still play “Nuevo Laredo” today, and that’s Tex-Mex to the bone.