Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sir Douglas & the Texas Tornados [extended]

  • Together After Five [Smash, 1970] B+
  • 1 + 1 + 1 = 4 [Philips, 1970] B-
  • The Return of Doug Saldana [Philips, 1971] A-
  • Doug Sahm and Band [Atlantic, 1973] B-
  • Rough Edges [Mercury, 1973] B+
  • Texas Tornado [Atlantic, 1973] B+
  • Groover's Paradise [Warner Bros., 1974] B+
  • Texas Rock for Country Rollers [ABC/Dot, 1976] B
  • The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet [Takoma, 1980] A-
  • Border Wave [Takoma, 1981] A-
  • Juke Box Music [Antone's, 1989] B+
  • Texas Tornados [Warner Bros., 1990] B+
  • The Best of Texas Tornados [Reprise, 1993] A-
  • Day Dreaming at Midnight [Elektra, 1994] **
  • Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006] A-
  • Esta Bueno [Bismeaux, 2010] **

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Sir Douglas Quintet: Together After Five [Smash, 1970]
The hallmark of Doug Sahm's warm, reliable, steady-rocking Tex-Mex is that it always sounds like you've heard it before--not the lyrics, which Doug just jotted down on some rolling papers five minutes ago, but the riffs. This can drive you crazy--"Nuevo Laredo" is "Mendocino," obviously, but where the hell does "Revolutionary Ways" come from? When the mood is right, though, it gives the music a kind of folkish inevitability that doesn't get boring because Tex-Mex is such a stew of influences. This is way too loose, and forget the slow ones, but what fun. B+

Sir Douglas Quintet: 1 + 1 + 1 = 4 [Philips, 1970]
"Let's [garbled] it seriously, man, get all the notes right," Doug orders his platoon before they attack an obscure Hayes-Porter song, and you can hear them trying--throughout the album, the effort gets in the way. Except for the classic "Be Real," the most striking groove is struck by guests Wayne Talbert and Martin Fierro, who impersonate McCoy and 'Trane on the coda to "Don't Bug Me!" B-

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Return of Doug Saldana [Philips, 1971]
What makes Doug so moving is the diffidence with which he reflects on his "mellow" (and not so mellow, unless you think drought and rail monopolies are just part of the American karma) counterculture experiences; his bohemian sketches aren't any artier than "She's About a Mover." On this album the relaxed but sloppy groove of Together After Five meets the attempted musicianship of 1 + 1 + 1 = 4 as Doug rejoins his "Chicago brothers" from hometown San Antonio. The result is a blues-based synthesis that's good for a lot of relatively distinctive songs, including "Stoned Faces Don't Lie," his most memorable since "Mendocino." A-

Doug Sahm and Band: Doug Sahm and Band [Atlantic, 1973]
Sahm may not be the only completely unselfconscious white rock and roller of the post-Beatles era, but I dare you to name the other one, and that's why Jerry Wexler's part of his cult. But Doug's a talent, not a genius, and a country-rock/country supersession posing as a "band" is only going to inhibit him. Despite (hell, including) the new Dylan song, humdrum plus. B-

Doug Sahm: Rough Edges [Mercury, 1973]
Look at it this way--if the Atlantic genius factory hadn't tried to transform this all-time ready-steady-go into a '70s folk hero, Mercury would never have hashed together these Quintet rejects. Apparently the potential singles were already used up--covers of Roy Sharpe's "Linda Lu" and Tom T. Hall's "The Homecoming" are the standouts. But every one is as unkempt and wonderful as the rest of Doug's Mercury stuff. And somebody (compiler Paul Nelson? remix engineer Al Vanderbilt?) has insured that the sound is uncommonly bright and strong. B+

The Sir Douglas Band: Texas Tornado [Atlantic, 1973]
Having embraced Doug's sloppiness, do we now penalize him for getting it together? It's a shock to hear him make like a big-band singer, but on the two opening cuts (both self-composed and -produced) he sounds enough like a good one to remind me that Texas was famous for "territory bands" in the '40s. And while the Quintet-style side two is never quite inspired, it's never less than competent fun. Yeah, competent--the singing especially has the kind of force and definition he's always rendered irrelevant in the past. His old fans don't need this record. But those who've always found him ragged might just go for it. B+

Doug Sahm: Groover's Paradise [Warner Bros., 1974]
In which Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, the rhythm section that supposedly held Creedence in thrall, find a master whose core simplicity is completely unassailable. Those who consider him repetitious and derivative certainly won't enjoy these foolish songs of praise to the Lone Star State, his most unambitious music since the days of Together After Five. But they're the fools. B+

Texas Rock for Country Rollers [ABC/Dot, 1976]
The first side is just Sahm country and though I could do without the pedal steel I like it fine--"Cowboy Peyton Place" and "Texas Ranger Man" are genre songs at their overstated best. The second side is redneck hoohah and I found it easier to take him seriously as a hippie, maybe because I'm more hippie than redneck myself--"Country Groove" and "Floatway" and of course "You Can't Hide a Redneck (Under That Hippy Hair)" sound written to order, and if they did the hustle in Austin I'm sure he'd have added one of those (which might be more fun). B

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet [Takoma, 1980]
With five of its twelve cuts lifted from Doug's 1969 Mercury debut Mendocino, which I replaced for 97 cents not long ago, and none of the rest from his mid-'70s star shots for Atlantic and ABC, this best-of is pretty archival--a good deed, modest promo for a deserving genre artist. John Fahey's indie is proud to claim now that no one expects to turn his genius into gold. Of course, given the specifics of Doug Sahm's genius, it would have sounded pretty archival in 1973, too. Riding in on Augie Meyer's organ, Tex-Mex like "Nuevo Laredo," "Dynamite Woman," and "She's About a Mover" sounds as inevitable as "Honky Tonk Woman" or "Louie Louie." "Mendocino" and "Stoned Faces Don't Lie" say more about hippiedom than "Woodstock" and "Eight Miles High." And "Song of Everything" is a dog. A-

Sir Douglas Quintet: Border Wave [Takoma, 1981]
He handles horns better than most, but the quintet is Doug's home concept, and this reunion could be his best LP ever. It's loose, it's tight, it's got great Kinks and Butch Hancock and 13th Floor Elevators covers, it's got Alvin Crow playing guitar and taking a song, it's got Johnny Perez on drums, and it's got Augie Meyers doing what he was born to do. It also has Doug making you believe he just thought up classic titles like "Old Habits Die Hard" and "Revolutionary Ways," because he just did. Making "simple" rock and roll this late in the game ain't easy. But simplicity has always been his gift. A-

Doug Sahm: Juke Box Music [Antone's, 1989]
Alive and well well well--I've never heard him in better voice than on this unexpected r&b record. Not a cleaning-up song in the carload, either. But there's also only one original after an eight-year dry spell, and though I'm happy to hear from him again, I hope the followup isn't more Tex-Mex for the white blues circuit. I also hope there's a followup. B+

Texas Tornados: Texas Tornados [Warner Bros., 1990]
On record they're a little too country for a honky-tonk conjunto rocking that Western swing. Freddy Fender especially is more ragged and more glorious entertaining fellow graybeards in person. But when Augie Meyers gets real silly or Doug Sahm gets real gone now, it doesn't matter at all. And the rest of the time it doesn't matter much. B+

Texas Tornados: The Best of Texas Tornados [Reprise, 1993]
The debut was rougher than tough and sweeter than shit, but as a genre band they're made for this selective, wide-ranging format. Mad rocker Doug Sahm is no longer a legend outside his place and time, vato vibrato Freddy Fender now remembered as a have-a-nice-day one-shot with a novelty artist's name, but not only were they both major in the bilingual, panstylistic Tex-Mex universe, they ain't oldies now. As for Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez, they're born sidemen whose solo albums stand up. In short, any young person who loves good rock and roll, good country, good conjunto, maybe even good polka has a supergroup out there waiting. Try "Guacamole," a great sex metaphor. Or "Who Were You Thinkin' Of," a classic country song. Or "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," no one-shot. A-

Sir Douglas Quintet: Day Dreaming at Midnight [Elektra, 1994]
hippiedom as folklore ("She Would if She Could, She Can't So She Won't," "Romance Is All Screwed Up") **

Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006]
Although Doug Sahm's cult has never assembled a best-of consistent enough to convert listeners who think Tex-Mex equals burritos, he defines a style as purely rock 'n' roll as doo-wop or grunge. Buoyed by Augie Meyers's organ and borrowing tunes from the polka conjuntos of his San Antonio raising, the best of his simple songs riff as infectiously as Allen Toussaint's. This 1981 Austin City Limits show, consumer-available as one of a fans-only series that also includes an unnecessary Texas Tornados set, catches him just right at 40. Hard living hasn't wrecked his voice, the musicianship is more disciplined than anything Huey Meaux imposed, new guy Alvin Crow is breaking out, and Sahm is flogging a strong late album. Even beats that Bottle Rockets tribute, I swear. Add tortillas, homemade salsa, and "96 Tears," and you're all set. A-

Texas Tornados: Esta Bueno [Bismeaux, 2010]
Spitting image Shawn Sahm and raised-from-the-vault Freddy Fender resurrect lost supergroup's good humor and Tex-Mex pride ("Chicano," "Esta Bueno"). **