The late Doug Sahm has been woefully let down by the record industry in the years following his death. Aside from a couple of decent compilations there hasn’t been (as far as I know) any attempt at a comprehensive retrospective or even a reasonable reissue programme of his major albums, solo, with The Sir Douglas Quintet or The Texas Tornados. Mind you, he recorded for a number of labels so the legal hurdles might just be too much to bear. In the meantime reissues are often slapdash, albums renamed, information scant, hidden away on back pages on Amazon.
This two disc CD (comprising three albums) is guilty on some counts. There’s little information on the musicians involved although there is an informative essay in the liner notes (written by Alan Robinson who also recounts a very brief encounter with the man). On the plus side it’s reasonably priced and it does contain one bona fide gem from the Texan Groover.
Hell Of A Spell, originally released in 1980 finds Sahm paying tribute to Texas bluesmen (the album is dedicated to Guitar Slim) and although it wasn’t his swansong it’s perhaps his last major release before he formed the Texas Tornados (along with two decades of a variety of line ups playing the Sir Douglas Quintet hits). With a fine horn section in tow Sahm offers up his “San Antonio blues album” covering Brook Benton, Junior Parker and, of course, Guitar Slim along with several of his own numbers. Produced by Dan Healy, The Grateful Dead’s soundman, it’s an excellent album, Sahm whoopin’ it up, his vocals fired, the band loose but not sloppy. There’s jump and jive and slow burning barrelhouse blues here. If you’re a Sahm fan and haven’t got this album then you can stop reading here and just go and buy it.
Nuevo Wave Live is credited to The Sir Douglas Quintet and it appears to be the same recording issued previously as Live Texas Tornado, an album recorded at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Hollywood and the Club Foot in Austin, Texas sometime in the early ’80’s. With the likes of Joe ‘King’ Carrasco on the scene the Quintet’s parping Farfisa Tex-Mex sound was popular again and here the band give it their all on pumping versions of Wooly Bully, Who Were You Thinkin’ Of, Mendocino and the almighty She’s About A Mover. It’s short but sweet, a crisp live recording with Sahm’s rendition of Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues an interesting diversion.
The second disc is a collection of early Sahm recordings delving back to 1958 many of which have been previously reissued on a variety of mongrel compilations. As far as I can see this is the most comprehensive collection so far with 25 songs gathered together. The road to Hell Of A Spell is already mapped out on The Pharaohs’ bluesy I Can’t Believe You Want Me To Leave and Why, Why, Why, recorded with The Markays in 1060, Sahm, just leaving his teens, already a Texas bluesman. The first ten songs are all vintage rock and blues before Sahm delves into early Tex-Mex land and this is where it gets murky. There are four instrumentals credited to him but no evidence of his presence. Following this are sets of songs from Freddy Fender, Ernest Tubb and T Bone Walker, all fine but tangential to Mr. Sahm’s story. Apart from that it’s a fine disc of rudimentary rock, blues and country.
A quick cost benefit analysis might determine whether this release is destined for your shelves but overall it’s a fine opportunity to catch up on the man who once said, “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul”.
Buy the album here