List of Great Texas Music Documentaries Adds One More
Doug Sahm on artist David Blancas' mural "La Musica de San Anto," near the Commerce Street bridge in downtown San Antonio
It came down to the wire for Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, the documentary about the incredible life and most groovy times of the late Doug Sahm, but it made it. Directed by longtime Texas music journalist Joe Nick Patoski, the film premiered at SXSW earlier this year to much applause, but until Tuesday morning was still missing a crucial piece of the puzzle — namely the rights to use Sahm’s music. Enter the Kickstarter campaign to raise the remaining funds, which made its goal with a little more than 48 hours to spare. Patoski says he used 44 total pieces of music in the film, most of them by Sahm, and the costs of all the performance, publishing, recording and video-use fees added up quickly.
“We bartered publishing companies from their original asks, which was more than $250,000,” he notes via email.
Although Sahm is rightfully associated most often with Austin and San Antonio, he was sometimes known as Texas’ unofficial state musician long before there was such a position; he actually died four years before it was created in 2003. Even today, no other musician has come close to taking so many different styles that were either born or have flourished in Texas — country, rock, R&B, conjunto, Cajun, psychedelia and swamp pop, for starters — and combining them into a singular bespoke sound. In other words, a Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.
Houston absolutely played a key supporting role in Sahm’s success, too. One of the most far-out songs in his entire catalog is “Houston Chicks,” a 1974 head trip from his Groover’s Paradise album. Sahm wrote one of his most beloved songs, “Texas Me,” upon getting homesick after chasing the hippie dream to San Francisco; the third verse opens with the line, “Standing outside of Houston, not a dime do I own…” Less abstractly, the recording sessions that really put him on the map — which yielded the Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1965 crossover smash “She’s About a Mover” as well as “The Rains Came,” “In the Pines,” “It’s a Man Down There” and a few others — were done at SugarHill Studios, then known as Gold Star Studios.
After his good friend Freddy Fender recorded perhaps the biggest hit in SugarHill’s long history in 1975 with “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights,” Sahm returned to record his 1976 LP Texas Rock For Country Rollers, under the name Sir Doug & the Texas Tornados. Although only a modest commercial success (“Cowboy Peyton Place” grazed the country singles chart, reaching No. 100), Rollers contains a killer cover of Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain” and several DougHead favorites: “Country Groove,” “I Love the Way You Love” and “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” which found a second wind among Gen-X alt-country fans when Uncle Tupelo recorded it on their 1993 album Anodyne.
The campaign reached its goal around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday; High-profile supporters include Texas filmmakers Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, plus a host of musicians — T-Bone Burnett, Lucinda Williams, Los Lobos, Boz Scaggs, Billy Gibbons, Steve Earle, Ryan Bingham, Kelly Willis and Robert Earl Keen, among many more. (Patoski has attached a petition to get Sahm on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot to his Kickstarter page, too.)
The film seems destined to join some pretty good company in the next few hours, films that today stand as a record of the great works of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Stevie Ray Vaughan and DJ Screw. Excellent documentaries have also been made in recent years about faded chapters of Texas music history that deserve to be preserved, be it Lubbock’s Cotton Club, the Dallas rock scene of the ‘70s, or Houston's legendary Kashmere Stage Band. Luckily, the frequency of such films seems to be increasing — almost 75 percent of the films below have been made in the 21st century. It would have been a crime against Texas if Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove was unable to join them, but luckily Sir Doug's loyal and groovy fans wouldn't hear of it.
AS I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY (2015)
History of the Rio Grande Valley rock and roll and punk scenes that not only birthed “96 Tears” hitmakers ? & the Mysterians, but that some have called the “flashpoint for the creation of Mexican-American culture.”
Availability: In progress
A WELL SPENT LIFE (1971)
Gorgeous scenery of the Brazos bottomlands is just one of the many virtues of filmmaker Les Blank's study of Mance Lipscomb — benevolent bluesman, rural philosopher and master of the finger-picking guitar style, who was not even discovered outside of Grimes County until 1960...at age 65.
BE HERE TO LOVE ME: A FILM ABOUT TOWNES VAN ZANDT (2005)
The awe and admiration with which people like Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris (to start with) talk about Townes Van Zandt make it plain how far removed his talents were from ordinary songwriters, while the intimate footage and testimonials by those who knew him best reveal just how human he really was.
Availability: Amazon Instant Video
THE BLUES ACCORDING TO LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS (1968)
In the late ‘60s, filmmaker Les Blank accompanies Houston’s “King of Dowling Street” on a visit to his childhood home in rural Centerville, Texas, where Lightnin’ explains all in the line “whenever you get a sad feeling, you can tell the whole round world that you’ve got nothin’ but the blues.”
CHULAS FRONTERAS (1976)
After visiting with Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, Les Blank heads further south to examine how performers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border use their music to both celebrate and criticize their society. Soundtrack features Lydia Mendoza, Flaco Jimenez, Santiago Jimenez Jr., Narciso Martinez, Little Joe y La Familia and more.
See Also: Tex-Mex: Music of the Texas Mexican Borderlands, a look at the same territory from the eyes of a Dutch TV crew in the early '80s.
THE DICKS FROM TEXAS (2015)
Mike Watt, Henry Rollins, Austin scenesters and loads of unreleased footage help narrate the loud-as-fuck legend of one of the most provocative and pure fun punk bands Texas ever produced.
Availability: Screenings only (for now)
DJ SCREW: THE UNTOLD STORY (2006)
A chorus of DJ Screw’s friends, family, rivals, admirers and clients sketch the origins of the craze his “grey tapes” touched off, and reflect on the turf war they sparked as well as Screw’s almost inhuman work ethic and the drank-related culture that, fairly or not, remains an integral part of his vast legacy.
See Also: Ghetto Dreams, the story of Screw’s associate Fat Pat, the Houston rapper and Screwed Up Click member who was murdered in 1998.
Gorgeous construction and concert footage highlights this even-handed look at the ongoing struggle for Austin’s 21st-century soul: musicians vs. developers. Features Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Ghostland Observatory, the Black Angels and many more.
Availability: echotonefilm.com (DVD/download)
FOR THE SAKE OF THE SONG: THE STORY OF ANDERSON FAIR (2010)
Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and many more reminisce about the revered Montrose listening room. (Still open!)
GOT NO SHOES, GOT NO BLUES
Right-wing talk radio decrying hippies alternates with footage of Texas’ first major outdoor music festival outside Lewisville on Labor Day Weekend 1969, the Texas International Pop Festival. Performers included Janis, Zeppelin, B.B. & Freddie King, Sly Stone and more.
Availability: Unreleased, but not impossible to find.
HEARTWORN HIGHWAYS (1976)
Shortly before Willie and Waylon made outlaw country fashionable, the likes of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, David Allan Coe and the Charlie Daniels Band showed everyone what it was supposed to sound like.
Availability: Amazon (DVD)
INSIDE THE CIRCLE (2006)
Almost nonstop dancing makes it hard to resist this Hoop Dreams-style look at three young men whose lives spin – and then spin some more – around Austin's annual B-Boy City breakdancing festival and competition.
JANIS: THE WAY SHE WAS (1974)
Alternates live footage of the late Port Arthur singer's greatest hits — “Ball and Chain” from Monterey Pop 1967, to name one especially great one — and fielding questions from various somewhat dim camera crews. Powerful stuff.
MARIACHI HIGH (2012)
A year in the life of Mariachi Halcon, the pride of Zapata High School, as they leave the Valley to enter statewide competitions and mind the days until graduation. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 Imagen Awards.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOUSTON (2003)
Starting off with a beatdown, Once Upon a Time surveys the Houston rap scene in the wake of DJ Screw's death. The camera catches up with Mr. 3-2, Big Pokey, C-Note, Will-Lean, Lil' Flip, Papa Reu and others from back in the day as they perform, promote their latest projects, and periodically come to blows. Raw, NSFW and indispensable.
PIMP C: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2008)
Recently released from prison, the Port Arthur MC born Chad Butler relates UGK’s rise to Southern-rap prominence and attempts to unite Houston’s fractious rap community with the “Knockin’ Doors Down” project, but dies abruptly before his many future plans can come to pass.
STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN: RISE OF A TEXAS BLUESMAN 1954-1983 (2014)
Besides a detailed analysis of SRV's performing style and years of hard labor in Austin’s club scene, this doc reaches back to T-Bone Walker and Johnny Winter to place him within the wider context of Texas blues — a genre he would resurrect and revitalize — but ends once stardom arrives with 1983’s Texas Flood. Patoski has a prominent talking-head role.
TEXXAS JAM '78 (2014)
Those who organized and played it — Ted Nugent, Heart, Journey and more — reflect on the first outdoor concert held in a football stadium in the Southern U.S., over the Fourth of July weekend 1978. Nearly everyone was shirtless in the 115-degree heat, prompting Heart’s Nancy Wilson to call the crowd “a sea of pink.”
THUNDER SOUL (2012)
Alumni of the Kashmere High School Stage Band, “baddest band in the nation” throughout much of the ‘70s, reunite for a tribute concert for their ailing and beloved mentor, Conrad “Prof” Johnson.
Availability: Amazon (DVD)
TOMMY HANCOCK: WEST TEXAS MUSE (2012)
The story of Tommy X Hancock, sire of Austin’s Texana Dames and one of Texas’ great Western Swing musicians, is synonymous with the Cotton Club, the old ballroom/dancehall outside Lubbock that Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore called “the only profitable venue for a band to stop between Dallas and Los Angeles.”
Availability: Screenings only
Alternately absorbing and inert, this half-hour series exploring the singular profession of Texas singer-songwriter has now completed three seasons. Episodes, organized by theme rather than artist, are available online.
Availability: Web site
WHEN DALLAS ROCKED (2013)
Long before Austin was the so-called Live Music Capital, North Texas names like KZEW, Buddy magazine, Mother Blues, the Vaughan brothers and Peaches Records made DFW the musical hub of the South and Southwest for a generation; bluesman Freddie King was the glue that somehow held it all together until his death in late 1976.
Availability: Trans-Pecos Productions (DVD)
ROKY ERICKSON: YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME (2005)
Patti Smith, Billy Gibbons and Thurston Moore expound on Roky Erickson, the rock genius and animus of the 13th Floor Elevators — and arguably all of psychedelic rock by extension — while the singer's well-meaning but often at-odds family grapples over how best to remedy his long battle with mental illness. Heartbreaking but inspiring.
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