thanks to Brendan Toller for this fine review of Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove MUSICFILMWEB review link
We haven’t run a Music Documentary Monday in a while, but when we asked filmmaker Brendan Toller about his favorites of the year, he responded with such written enthusiasm for this title – an SXSW 2015 premiere, as was his own Danny Says – that we decided on a one-off revival of our review column to share it with readers at length. Check back in a few weeks for our annual round-up of the year in music film, featuring picks from Brendan and host of other connoisseurs.
Joe Nick Patoski is a rock ‘n’ roll/Texas font, penning books on Willie Nelson, Selena, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, No Depression, et al., and he quickly rose to Variety’s “Top Documentarians to Watch in 2015″ with his directorial debut, Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. Doug Sahm’s recordings, legacy, and inducive character are among the thrills of my life, so it was just minutes on the ground at SXSW before Patoski and I were cackling in a corner over a mess of Franklin’s barbecue. This prowess of this production from Austin-based creative team Arts+Labor was the true gem of discovery at SXSW 2015, and few music docs in this “year of the music doc” have reflected the tone and candor of their subject so well.
Doug Sahm is an indefinable character, but here goes.
At 7 he was considered San Antonio’s country music prodigy, getting a tip of the hat from Hank Williams himself. In the mid-’60s, at the suggestion of record producer Huey P. Meaux, Sahm partnered with his longtime friend, organist Augie Meyers, and Jack Barber, Frank Morin, and Johnny Perez to form the Sir Douglas Quintet. The Quintet cashed in as a fake British Invasion band with their ’65 smash “She’s About A Mover.” They traveled the country and, like not a few other Texas greats (the 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Winter, Butthole Surfers), got busted for a few joints. Sahm’s parents mortgaged their house to get him out of jail.
As soon as he shook loose from probation, Sahm moved to San Francisco, and any remaining “redneck” roots were hippified by the LSD revolution. He took this dual sensibility back to Texas, and it defines the forces that have kept his adopted hometown of Austin weird. As his lookalike son Shawn Sahm recalls in the film, Doug was driven by the groove – a desire to keep the whirlwind of beautiful music, women, and food forever in orbit. His eclecticism and showmanship permeate his solo debut, Doug Sahm & Band (produced by Jerry Wexler and featuring contributions from Dr. John, Bob Dylan, and the Memphis Horns), but those qualities didn’t always pay in the bloated ’70s record biz (see also NRBQ). In the ’80s Sahm took the rollicking highs and lows of showbiz to Scandinavia (“Bavarian Baby”!) and Canada, returning home late in the decade to form Tex-Mex supergroup the Texas Tornados. He passed away in 1999 at the early age of 58. Fans include: Jeff Tweedy, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Bottle Rockets, Drive-By Truckers, et al.
Like Sahm, Patoski and Arts+Labor chief Alan Berg are at heart creative-community organizers. They’ve assembled a team of Austinites that wind together beautifully shot interviews, archival stills, and rare footage and audio tapes (including an incredible reel-to-reel recorded by Sahm’s wife foreshadowing her departure from their marriage). Super-8, VHS, and HD formats are embraced and blended to stunning effect by colorist Joe Malina and director of photography Yuta Yamaguchi. Sir Doug and the Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove is infused with a thoughtfulness and heartfelt sense of humor that transcends tribute and effortlessly infects viewers with the groove: you too will be driven to discover astonishing music, love, and food, with Doug Sahm providing your spiritual soundtrack. As Sahm himself put it, “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.”