‘Doug Sahm and Band’
(Atlantic SD 7254)
1.(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone
2. It’s Gonna Be Easy
3. Your Friends
4. Poison Love
6. Dealer’s Blues
7. Faded Love
8. Blues Stay Away From Me
9. Papa Ain’t Salty
10. Me And Paul
11. Don’t Turn Around
12. I Get Off
Doug Sahm and Band is the kind of record that Dawes, Mumford & Sons, Ryan Adams and so many other musicians still strive to make. It is loose, live, spirited, well-captured and recorded onto 2 inch tape through an analogue desk. There is microphone bleed, amp hiss, coughing, wrong notes, extraneous interaction of all kinds and it sounds fantastic.
If you want to share the experience of a shit-hot group of musicians jamming great songs live in a studio – this is it.
You can hear the joy.
The legendary Jerry Wexler bought Doug Sahm’s contract and secured a large budget to record in New York – at Atlantic Recording Studios, West 60th Street – in October 1972.
Wexler was a massive force in the music industry, having signed and/or produced a vast array of musicians (Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin and, later, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan), which clearly gave confidence to Doug Sahm and his assembled ‘band’. He was free to explore musical styles without financial, creative or time constraints.
All of the players on this record are great: Dr John was on hand to help create some Cajun voodoo; Wayne Jackson was part of The Memphis Horns and played with Al Green and Elvis; David Newman blew tenor sax for so many, from Charlie Parker to Aretha Franklin and, of course, Ray Charles.
Flaco Jimenez was part of The Sir Douglas Quintet and later played accordion with Ry Cooder and the Rolling Stones while Charlie Owens was the guitarist for Jerry Lee Lewis!
Augie Meyers was a major force behind The Sir Douglas Quintet, and went on to play with John Hammond and on two Dylan records – Time Out Of Mind and Love & Theft.
Neal Rosengarden played on ‘Young, Gifted & Black’, Andy Statman played alongside Fred Tackett and David Bromberg had played with Willie Nelson, Dylan, George Harrison and Carly Simon, while Kenny Kosek had backed Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia and Leonard Cohen.
And there was another guest – Bob Dylan.
Dylan was seemingly at a loose end at the time, guesting and jamming with different artists around New York – John Prine, Bette Midler, Roger McGuinn, Steve Goodman, Dave Bromberg and, allegedly, Elvis Presley. This was all prior to him starting work on Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, the Sam Peckinpah movie, filmed in Durango.
Depending on the source, the LP was released in December 1972, January 1973 or some unspecified time in the early 70s. Either way, it was recorded in early October ’72 then mixed, packaged and released very quickly.
Sadly, the music press at the time reacted badly to the ‘all-star jam’ pre-release publicity and it only reached #123 on Billboard, despite the inclusion of Bob Dylan’s unreleased song ‘Wallflower’. (Dylan’s own version of the song was eventually released on ‘The Bootleg Series: Volume 1-3’ in 1991)
There were a lot of songs recorded at the sessions and, of the chosen 12, only 3 were written by Sahm. The rest were by other composers – like one very famous side-man.
Dylan is all over this record. He adds vamping, bluesy harmonica, organ, ‘lead’guitar and gloriously ragged vocals. Sahm’s Bourbon drawl is a treat from the catchy country rock of ‘(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone’ to the honky-tonk piano-led ‘Me and Paul’ and it meshes particularly well with Dylan’s voice. In fact, they are sometimes indistinguishable, and it’s a shame they did no more recordings together – although they did sing together at two Dylan shows in 1988 and 1995.
There’s a brilliantly impromptu ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’, where Dylan just starts playing and singing the song and everyone falls in behind him. It sounds wholly accidental that the tape was rolling – or maybe producers Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler were simply astute enough to keep the ‘record’ button down while he was around.
Dylan’s guitar ‘solo’ is a predictably unpredictable and idiosyncratic passage, but fits none-the-less. I guess no-one was going to say “Hey, Bob, I think we’ll get someone else to play that – but thanks.” When compared to the playing on, say, ‘Papa Ain’t Salty’, it doesn’t hold up, but, like everything else Dylan contributes on this record – it works.
The diversity of styles on this LP (or reissued CD) is staggering. There isn’t a weak track on it. The soul-jazz-blues of ‘Your Friends’ and the drunken waltz of ‘Wallflower’ are classics, and the pure old-time country of ‘Faded Love’ sits perfectly alongside the ‘Blueberry Hill’ rock of ‘Don’t Turn Around’. There’s radio-friendly sing-a-long country-rock with ‘(Is anybody Going To)San Antone’ and beer-soaked Southern Rock (with horns) on ‘I Get Off’. The ‘blues’ are heartily represented too, with the glorious ‘Papa Ain’t Salty’ and spiky, horn-led ‘Dealer’s Blues’. It is a history lesson in Southern Rock and Doug Sahm was a hell of a teacher.
Jerry Wexler asked for “more bass” to be inscribed on his tombstone, and this is a typical 1970’s live recording – a little on the thin side and benefits from a hefty dose of bottom end. But that’s it. There is nothing else negative to say.
“I wanna bring up one of my really old buddies, Doug Sahm. Everybody knows Doug and we go back a long way…” – Bob Dylan, 1995, Austin, Texas.
“Well, where do you start with Doug Sahm? You know, I don’t think I ever met a musician so versatile…who could play so many styles of music correctly as Doug Sahm.” – Clifford Antone, 2000.
Even though there are names on this album that were better known than his own, it is still a Doug Sahm record. He led these sessions like the musical visionary he was. Everything that made him great is on this record. Doug Sahm passed away on November 18, 1999, but this album is the finest testament to his enormous talent.
In 1992, Rhino released ‘Doug Sahm and Friends’ – a collection of songs from both Atlantic sessions (‘Doug Sahm & Band’ plus ‘Texas Tornado’). The CD includes unreleased tracks and all songs are remastered.
Copyright © 2012 William Henry Prince. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Expecting Rain for the quotes, and Clinton Heylin for background info.