Arguably the greatest and most influential Tex-Mex group ever, the Sir Douglas Quintet epitomized Texas' reputation as a fertile roots music melting pot and established the career of Tex-Mex cult legend Doug Sahm. The Quintet mixed country, blues, jazz, R&B, Mexican conjunto/norteño music, Cajun dances, British Invasion rock & roll, garage rock, and even psychedelia into a heady stew that could only have come from Texas. Although they went largely underappreciated during their existence (mostly in the '60s), their influence was far-reaching and continues to be felt in Texas (particularly the similarly eclectic Austin scene) and beyond; afterward, Sahm embarked on a frequently fascinating solo career and reunited with the Quintet or its individual members several times over the years.
According to legend, the Sir Douglas Quintet was the brainchild of Houston producer Huey P. Meaux, who at the height of the British Invasion took a stack of Beatles records into a hotel room and studied them while getting drunk on wine. He found that the beats often resembled those of Cajun dance songs and hit upon the idea of a group that could blend the two sounds well enough to fool Beatles fans into giving a local band a chance. Doug Sahm, meanwhile, had been something of a childhood prodigy as a country artist — he turned down a spot on the Grand Ole Opry in order to finish junior high and performed on-stage with Hank Williams. Sahm had made Meaux's acquaintance while leading a series of bands around San Antonio in high school and wanted to work with him. Meaux told Sahm his idea and Sahm quickly formed a band featuring childhood friend Augie Meyers on organ, bassist Jack Barber, drummer Johnny Perez, and percussionist Leon Beatty (who didn't stick around for too long); saxophonist Frank Morin was added after a short time. Meaux gave them the deceptively British-sounding name the Sir Douglas Quintet and released their debut single, "Sugar Bee," on his Pacemaker label in 1964; it flopped. However, their next single, the British Invasion/garage-flavored "She's About a Mover" (on a different Meaux label, Tribe), became a classic of Tex-Mex rock and an international hit, climbing into the U.S. Top 20 in 1965. Later that year, "The Rains Came" hit the Top 40 and Meaux assembled an LP from their singles sessions with the misleading title The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet. The group toured the United States and Europe, but upon returning, they were arrested at the Corpus Christi airport for possessing a tiny amount of marijuana. Feeling targeted for his long hair and hippie image, Sahm decided to break up the band upon his release from jail, and moved to San Francisco in early 1966; Morin tagged along.
Once in San Francisco, Sahm formed a new version of the Sir Douglas Quintet featuring Morin, keyboardist Peter Ferst (who was quickly replaced by Wayne Talbert), bassist John York (later of the Byrds, soon replaced by Whitney Freeman), and drummer George Rains; most of them were Texas expatriates as well. The new Sir Douglas Quintet gigged regularly around the Bay Area and signed with the Mercury subsidiary Smash. Their first album, Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues, was recorded with several extra horn players as the Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 and released in 1968; however, it lacked Augie Meyers' signature organ sound. Rains and Talbert soon left to concentrate on other projects and Sahm convinced Meyers and Johnny Perez to move up from Texas; they brought Meyers' old bandmate Harvey Kagan with to be the bassist. With almost all of their original members, the Sir Douglas Quintet recorded one of their finest albums, 1969's Mendocino; the title track became a Top 40 hit and a Tex-Mex rock staple and the whole record fit in very well with the emerging country-rock hybrid. Moreover, it made the group extremely popular in Europe, where they would retain a fan base for many years to come. Together After Five followed in 1970, after which the group switched to a different Mercury affiliate, Philips. Also released in 1970, 1+1+1=4 featured members of both the Texas and California lineups of the Quintet, plus new bassist Jim Stallings. It was perhaps a sign that much of the group was beginning to drift into other projects again. Without Sahm, the remainder of the Quintet recorded an album for United Artists called Future Tense; several members also backed Gene Vincent as the Amigos de Musica. A homesick Sahm finally returned to Texas in 1971 and the Sir Douglas Quintet officially disbanded in late 1972, though some of its members — Meyers in particular — would continue to work with Sahm frequently during his solo career.
After being ignored by Mercury, Sahm signed with Atlantic as a solo artist; in the wake of Atlantic's promotional push, Mercury issued an album of unreleased Sir Douglas Quintet tracks, called Rough Edges, in 1973. This was the last new Quintet album for some time, until Sahm, Meyers, and Perez re-formed the group at the dawn of the '80s, along with new guitarist Alvin Crow and new bassist Speedy Sparks. They signed with the Chrysalis subsidiary Takoma and released the album Border Wave in 1981, which fused their eclectic Tex-Mex rock & roll with the concise pop sound of new wave (as Joe "King" Carrasco had been doing). Crow left prior to the supporting tour to work with his own band and was replaced by Louie Ortega; once again, the Quintet proved more popular in Europe, especially Scandinavia, than in their own country. They recorded for the European Sonet label during the '80s and Takoma occasionally released Quintet material as well. They scored an enormous Swedish hit with "Meet Me in Stockholm," though the accompanying album wasn't released in the U.S.; by 1985, the group had broken up again. Sahm and Meyers formed the Tex-Mex supergroup the Texas Tornados with Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez at the end of the decade and in 1994 presided over a one-off version of the Sir Douglas Quintet that featured Sahm's sons Shandon (drums) and Shawn (guitar). In November 1999, Sahm died of a heart attack. ~ Steve Huey