In his directorial debut Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, former Texas Monthly staff writer, journalist, and author Joe Nick Patoski explores the life and career of one of San Antonio’s most influential musicians and band leaders, Doug Sahm.
The documentary, which first premiered in 2015 at SXSW Film, follows Sahm’s trajectory from his home in San Antonio to Houston, to San Francisco in the ’60s, and later to Austin as he blended and experimented with country, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and conjunto genres to create his own unique sound and become one of the most prolific musicians of his time.
Sahm was a child steel guitar prodigy before he started The Sir Douglas Quintet during the British Invasion. In the ’60s, he participated in the psychedelic music scene and later founded the Grammy Award-winning Texas Tornados with fellow industry giants Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and San Antonio-born Flaco Jiménez.
Sahm may not be a household name like Willie Nelson, Patoski said, but he is perhaps just as influential.
Patoski – who first met Sahm in 1973 and remained friends with him until his death in 1999 – has written about some of the Texas music industry’s greats, including Willie Nelson, Selena, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others. He waited his entire 40-plus-year career to finally get the chance to tell Sahm’s story, “the one that almost got away,” as he put it.
“I tried to write a book even when he was alive and for circumstance and such it didn’t happen,” Patoski told the Rivard Report last week. “But it really was a gift, the fact that a book was no longer viable. I had to do something else, and to me it’s serendipitous that I got this opportunity (to direct the documentary).”
Patoski and his documentary team – filmmakers Alan Berg, Dawn Johnson, and Arts+Labor – started the project in 2013. By the end, they had interviewed more than 50 of Sahm’s close friends, family members, and fellow musicians, just in time to screen the finished product at 2015 SXSW Film.
“I’m not the only one that thinks Doug didn’t get his due,” Patoski said. “This was a collective effort and there are a lot of people who want to tell his story.”
The Rivard Report chatted with Patoski over the phone to learn more about the documentary and what exactly inspired him to shed light on Sahm, the “Groover’s Groover.” See parts of the exchange below.
Rivard Report: How would you describe Doug Sahm and his career to someone who has never heard of him?
Joe Nick Patoski: One thing I’d say is, “Here’s the guy that started modern Americana music.” The other thing is, “You want to hear what Texas sounds like? Here’s the guy,” and I say that in a very complimentary form. As a writer, I’ve always been about writing about people and place, and Doug reeks of place. No one could play all the various indigenous sounds of Texas authentically – and authentically is what’s really important – like Doug could.
There are many great blues players, but Doug learned from the master of the modern electric blues guitar. He saw T-Bone Walker play. Similarly as a kid he sat on Hank Williams’ knee – the biggest star in country music. To get direct transmission like that, it’s pretty profound.
To be the guy in San Antonio that is open enough to music that he goes to the barrio to fair it out (with) Flaco Jiménez and learn how to play bajo sexto, no one else did that.
RR: Why is it important to tell Sahm’s story? What makes it unique?
JNP: Everybody knows Willie Nelson’s story, but Doug is the other half to that … Doug has been as profoundly influential, but without the recognition. Among musicians, the insiders know him and really revere him. … He was kind of a bigger deal in the 1970s.
(When) Doug returned from San Francisco, he basically reversed his migration. In Texas if you were different, you had to leave in the 1960s, but he came back and showed that you can not only wear your cowboy stuff here, but you can have long hair. That wasn’t happening in San Francisco, but Doug brought the hippy ideals and Texas values and culture together. When I look at him – long hair cowboy hat and pointy boots – that’s Texas, man…
(Doug’s story) is an untold story about the greatest musician you’ve never heard of or the greatest underground musician that you know finally gets recognized. I want to turn people on to who this cat was.
RR: Describe the impact Doug has had on the local music scene.
JNP: This is a San Antonio music story, and I like to think it tells so many stories about San Antonio, about people like Jack Barber and the West Side Horns and the place where Doug grew up. If he hadn’t grown up in San Antonio, you and I wouldn’t be talking right now.
He grew up on the Westside originally and then moved over to the Eastside. He was that cat that respected the Westside of San Antonio like no outsider has since. He took the Westside sound to the bigger stage. Doug has been responsible for exporting it to a greater audience.
RR: What have you come to appreciate about this whole experience?
JNP: It’s made me love San Antonio more than I’ve loved it before, and I’ve always loved it. I grew up in Fort Worth and spent many years in Austin. San Antonio is as much my city as Austin is. San Antonio has got so much soul.
I’ve worked for many years with (Tejano Conjunto Festival Director) Juan Tejeda and also with the Guadalupe’s new (Executive Director) Cristina Ballí, I’ve known her from Texas Folk Life, so I get to go be with family (Thursday), and I’m looking forward to it.
It’s not just any showing, it’s a hometown showing.
For more information on Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, click here.