A Lot Of Soul: Austin’s Tribute to Doug Sahm
On a foggy morning recently, I climbed to the top of Doug Sahm Hill. It was just a few days after a bunch of Austin musicians gathered at Antone’s to pay respect to the late, great Douglas Wayne Sahm. I didn’t go to the concert but I did drop by Austin’s new Lady Bird Lake park and took the winding path up to the top of the hill named after this legendary Texas musician.
Not much to see from the top – especially with the fog and all – and the only thing up there is a concrete bench circling a Texas map inlaid in concrete. The only clue that the hill is related to anything about music is the sign you see as you are about to climb the hill (see above). That’s why they had this big show the other night at Antone’s: to raise money for a plaque, a statue or something.
Climb to the top and take a look around. You should have some Doug Sahm music playing in your portable player, because there’s no music to be heard up here. At the right time of year you can certainly hear live music coming from just across the street at Auditorium Shores; a number of live shows happen there, including the big SXSW free shows in the spring.
But not the day I’m up there. Just look around and remember. We have written about Doug Sahm a few times; complaining that he’s not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and about his 1980s reforming of the Sir Douglas Quintet. It really is a shame that the Rock Hall has overlooked Doug Sahm – and from the top of his hill you can see the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, another great Texas musician who casts a very long shadow. Stevie Ray’s not in that Rock Hall either; exactly what is wrong with you boys?
Also from the top of Doug Sahm hill, if you face a certain way you would be casting your gaze in the general direction of the old Armadillo World Headquarters. The original building is long gone and the site is just a block or so away, but you can’t see the exact spot because the big Palmer Events Center is in the way. Sahm played the Armadillo a number of times; perhaps the most memorable occasion was Thanksgiving 1972, when he took the stage with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Leon Russell, among others. Read more about that here.
On a clear day you can certainly see the Austin downtown skyline from Doug Sahm Hill. But the new buildings block your view of the Texas capitol building dome and the University of Texas tower, the landmarks most familiar to Austinites and visitors alike and prominently featured in the background of every “Austin City Limits” TV show. So, yeah, one doesn’t have to be artful to say it: Austin has certainly changed since the heyday of Sir Douglas Sahm. It’s nice they have a hill or something named after him, it would be nicer if it wasn’t so half-assed. But really the best way to remember a powerful, vital life force like Sahm is to listen to his music.
And if you climb down from Doug Sahm Hill and walk in just about any direction, before long you’ll hear live music coming from the patios and bars. It could be that Texas blend of country and folk, it could be blues, or old-timey soul or rock and roll or even metal. Step in, buy a beer and let the music flow all around you. Now that’s the real legacy of a guy like Doug Sahm.