Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tom Russell on Doug Sahm

The Ballad of Little Dougie

He’s sitting on stage somewhere in the night. Clutching a Bajo Sexto. One of those deep throated Mexican instruments; a sonic cross between a 12 string guitar and a broken steel cable whacking beats against a wooden thunder drum. A tuba with strings. Doug Sahm is poised. Historically posed. Leather jacket, black cowboy hat, pointy toe black boots. Long Hair and shades. The real/true beat king of Americana long before it was deadened into a recycle bin for old rockers and hat acts and tired folkies. My friend Peter from England gave me this picture. Doug is probably one of the only gabacho/gringos who could play the bajo sexto; he also played guitar, steel guitar, bass, drums, and all of it. They say he played once with Hank Williams. He used to call me in the middle of the night and whisper arcane warnings: “Man you gonna get fat on Mexican food down in El Paso. Watch out.” He said he’d drive out to see me, but “them Mexican banditos out there would steal my Cadillac.” He called me “St Olav’s,” because he loved that song of mine. He even recorded it once. Doug wanted us to tour Norway together and take it all back. The fame, the glory, the Norwegian Kroners. It never transpired.

He was called “Little Dougie,” in those 1950’s photos. A ten year old kid behind a steel guitar. Then he was the young dude with Beatle bangs and flamenco boots who hit ‘em hard with “Mendocino” and “She’s About a Mover.” He sang with Dylan. He was American music in the raw/real sense; music drawn from the border, Mexico, accordions, steel guitars, East Texas blues, girls tight red dresses, white boy rock, and British Invasion boomerang POP. Doug Sahm. Crooning, moaning, and wailing his way through his own Great American Songbook.

I hung out with him in a New York deli once. He spent twenty minutes telling the waitress how to make real corn beef hash. Then we went back to his hotel room where he chastised me for tossing my cowboy hat on the bed: “No hat on the bed, dude, its bad luck!” Then he showed me his bag of vitamins, mineral water, and the special coffee machine he travelled with. The road warrior in his final season; with medicines for the ritual.

A year later he died, in a Motel, in Taos, New Mexico. Gone, but never gone. Little Dougie.

The other night I watched the Texas Tornados. Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez and Doug’s son, Sean. On fire. Doug looked down and whispered to “Boogie,” (which is what he called Augie) – “Heh, Boogie, keep your eye on St. Olav’s, don’t let him get fat on that El Paso Mexican food. And don’t let him throw his hat on the bed, boogie.”

Roll on, Little Dougie, roll on.

(I’ll send this one out to the regulars in “Bar Mendocino,” Helsinki, Finland.)
Posted by Tom Russell at 1:49 PM


Unknown said...

Hey Tom, I'm a little disappointed in reading you refer to "Americana musicians as aging rockers, hat acts, and tired folkies. In a way, those who first develop a genre have it easier because it's wide open. Once the ground gets broken, it becomes more and more difficult to find an original niche. But just by their trying they show that they have the same respect for the ground breakers (Doug, et al) that you do. There are a lot of talented and dedicated musicians doing Americana, and a lot of good music being made. I think they deserve a little more respect and recognition and encouragement to keep on pushing.

Michael said...

Thanks, Tom. Hope you enjoyed your spell in Bisbee; love the border album. St. Elmos misses you. We didn't meet as I was long gone like a turkey through the corn years before you arrived.
Best, Michael

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