a happy note on a sad day
By Michael Corcoran
Wednesday, November 24,
SAN ANTONIO --The crowd was
so large that about a third of the estimated 1,000 on hand had to huddle
around an overwhelmed loudspeaker outside. But even more impressive than
the turnout at Doug Sahm's funeral Tuesday was the way the mourners cut
across all lines of age, race and social standing.
Not only was just about every
Austin and San Antonio music veteran on hand, but those who came to pay
their respects included bikers, field workers in their best pair of jeans,
club owners, music executives and fans from as far away as Holland and
Canada. They wore black cowboy hats and Chicago Cubs caps in homage to
the cosmic cowboy whose passion for life was infectious. And when they
approached the coffin, after waits as long as an hour and a half, they
touched the trademark black hat that Sahm still wore and slipped in little
gifts -- guitar picks, joints, poems -- to be buried forever with the Texas
music legend who, at 58, succumbed to heart disease Thursday in a hotel
room in Taos, N.M.
"Look all around," said Sahm's
older brother, Victor, one of four family members to speak at the funeral
in northeast San Antonio, Sahm's hometown. "It was one man who brought
you all together."
Gov. George W. Bush was among
those (including Willie Nelson and Sahm's former Texas Tornados bandmate
Freddy Fender) who phoned in regrets. The governor's representatives told
Sahm's son, Shawn Sahm, that he wanted to attend but that he was afraid
his appearance would be a distraction.
With the focus firmly on
Sahm and all the things the singer and guitarist stood for, it's unlikely
the governor would have registered even a double-take. This day, which
ended with a jam session at the Laboratory Brewing Company nightclub, was
reserved for a musician who stayed vital through five decades, helping
to define a music scene in Austin and showing that blues, conjunto, rock,
Cajun and country could coexist beautifully -- as long as they're played
Shawn Sahm broke up the somber
occasion with hilarious stories that earned nods of recognition from the
audience. "You could never get ahold of Dad. He got hold of you," Shawn
said. He described his father as a man of many fervent interests, especially
"When we were driving around
and my father saw the illumination of a baseball field a couple miles away,
us kids knew we were gonna be there for a while," he recounted. "Dad would
pull up to the diamond and right away he'd be telling everyone how to play."
Shawn, a musician who often
played with his father in recent years, told of the time he took his dad
to a Metallica concert. "I'm the oldest one here," Doug exclaimed, to which
Shawn answered, "Yeah, Dad, but you're the hippest."
The hipster, whose first
hit was with his faux-British Sir Douglas Quintet, wouldn't have liked
the way the services began, with the funeral director's cell phone going
off in mid-announcement, then a cheesy oldies radio station piping in music.
The station had planned to make a special on-air announcement at 3:45 pm.
But because the viewing took so long, the timing was off, and a weather
report, followed by a hit by another artist, came out over the p.a. instead.
Country singer Lee Roy Parnell
led the movement in the crowd to can the radio tie-in. After all, with
the exception of "She's About a Mover," "The Rains Came" and "Mendocino"
in the '60s with the Quintet and "(Hey Baby) Que Paso" in the '90s with
the Texas Tornados, Sahm's gritty vocals were rarely heard on the airwaves.
"My father always said that
you either got it or you didn't," Shawn said. And hundreds who got Doug
Sahm nodded in agreement.
After the services at Sunset
Funeral Home let out and Sahm's body was moved to be buried next to his
father and mother in a private ceremony at an adjacent cemetery, many of
those on hand milled in the parking lot and told their own Sahm stories.
"There was no such thing
as failure in his life," said Reprise record label Vice President Bill
Bentley, who started Tornado Records with Sahm a few months ago. "There
would be like two podunk stations playing the Tornados, and Doug would
be acting like he had a hit record on his hands. `They're playing us in
Poughkeepsie!' he'd say. `If you can win over Poughkeepsie, you can take
on the world.' "
Bentley said a statue to
Sahm should be built in his beloved Austin. "He belongs right next to Stevie
(Ray Vaughan)," Bentley said.
Back in Austin at Antone's,
one of Sahm's favorite clubs, preparations were under way for tribute shows
Dec. 3 and 4.