December 30, 2008
Record Review: The Sir Douglas Quintet Is Back!
The Sir Douglas Quintet
The Sir Douglas Quintet Is Back!
2000 | Sundazed Music Inc.
Just looking at the cover of The Sir Douglas Quintet Is Back!, you’d be excused for mistaking The Sir Douglas Quintet for a cheap Animals or Herman’s Hermits knockoff. Everyone’s doing their approximation of a young British Invasion sensation of the day: leader (and namesake) Doug Sahm doing his Pete Townshend and drummer Johnny Perez looks an awful lot like Keith Moon, albeit a Keith who’d spent a little more time at the beach. Organist Augie Meyers (later famous for his Vox work on Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind) could have been replaced by Mick Jagger, he’s got the look down pat. It’s almost as if somebody in a position of power thought they could make a quick couple of dollars fooling American teens into buying Is Back! based on cover photo, in hopes that Sahm and Co. could pass as lesser UK popsters. What a shock those kids would have suffered when they set the platter on the hi-fi and The Sir Douglas Quintet’s brand of weird “cosmic” country barreled through the speakers.
Cosmic country? Certainly. The Sir Douglas Quintet, based out of San Antonio and most active in the mid-1960s, shared more than a little in common with their contemporaries (and Austin neighbors) the 13th Floor Elevators: the natural rambunctious energy of the music, the Cajun and Tex-Mex influences in the instrumentation and song structure (certainly a natural occurrence in ANY band from southern Texas). Is Back! is country music in the same way that Highway 61 Revisited or Sticky Fingers are country music: songs like “Old Bill Baetty” move with the same road-movie energy that posesses “Tombstone Blues,” and Sahm’s blistering fret-styling on “When I Sing the Blues” and “Blues Pass Me By” could easily be mistaken for Mike Bloomfield performances that got lost in the mix or accidentally deleted. “Isabella” could easily have been a Jagger-Richards castoff from their country era.
There’s something else going on here though, that sets The Sir Douglas Quintet apart from the rest of the “country-rock” pack. “Wine, Wine, Wine,” “She’s Gotta Be Boss,” and “Sugar Bee” (complete with its own fake-out false fade ending) share the energy and abandon of proto-punk, “garage” rock bands like the Sonics and the Monks. I also detected more than a hint of the ghetto soul that Detroit rockers ? and the Mysterians made infinitely more famous on their classic singles like “96 Tears” and “Can’t Get Enough Of You, Baby.” The Sir Douglas Quintet did not play rock music packaged as country, and they did not play edgy country music that pandered to a rock and roll audience. What Doug Sahm and Co. wrangled from their instruments was a genre-hopping sound that belonged to them wholly. God bless them for that.
by Brook Pridemore