“Part of the reason we’re here,” Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar recently told the audience at Annapolis’s Rams Head on Stage, “is to celebrate the music of Doug Sahm.”
A legendary musician’s musician who never achieved the popular acclaim he so richly deserved, the late Doug Sahm (he passed in 1999) was something of a mentor to Jay. Jay’s first band, alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, covered Sahm’s “Give Me Back The Key To My Heart” on their final album, Anodyne, with Doug making a guest appearance on the song.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1941, Sahm was a musical prodigy, playing on the radio by the age of five. In the ’50s, while still in his teens, he became a featured player on the Louisiana Hayride program, playing with artists such as Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, and Hank Williams. The peak of his commercial success came with his band The Sir Douglas Quintet, which had hits in the mid-late ’60s with “She’s About A Mover” and “Mendocino.” Though he’d never achieve the same chart success, he became a pivotal figure in the “cosmic country” scene in Austin in the 1970s. His 1973 album, Doug Sahm and Band, which featured guest appearances from Dr. John, Bob Dylan, and others is an early seminal Americana record.
Doug was Texas through and through, and he was a master of all forms of Texas music: country, blues, polka, Tex-Mex. It’s been suggested that part of the reason he never achieved the breakthrough success he desired is the diversity of his music. “I never stay in one bag,” he said.
Last month, Son Volt released an album of Doug’s songs, Day of the Doug. On July 17, Son Volt performed at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis, Maryland. They started their set with this material: “Sometimes You’ve Got To Stop Chasing Rainbows,” “Yesterday,” “Float Away,” “Beautiful Texas Sunshine,” and “What About Tomorrow” all appear on Day of the Doug. The Doug material also included the aforementioned “Give Me Back The Key To My Heart” and “Mendocino.”
Stream Doug Sahm’s “Sometimes You’ve Got to Stop Chasing Rainbows” by Son Volt on YouTube:
This tour was titled 28 Years of Son Volt, and the other guiding purpose of the show was to revisit the band’s landmark first, 1995’s Trace, in its entirety. The album has been hailed by rock critics like Stephen Hyden as one of the best debuts of the 90s. Son Volt played the album in its track order, beginning with road song “Windfall,” a theme returned to in “Route.” “Live Free” riffs on the New Hampshire state motto, “Live free or die.” “Tear Stained Eye,” which may be my favorite song from the album, is about a flood in Missouri. “Drown” was something of a hit signal. Other songs on the album (and in the set) included “Loose String,” ” “Out of the Picture,” “Catching On,” and relationship song “Mystifies.”
After playing the material from Trace, Jay and the band played a handful more of songs from the Son Volt catalog: “Picking Up the Signal,” “Driving the View,” “Sinking Down,” and “Back Against the Wall,” closing the set with reverie “Reverie.” For their encore, they covered The Band’s “The Weight.”
British singer-songwriter Peter Bruntnell opened the show. Bruntnell mentioned that SV is his favorite band; he’s recorded with former members of the band during his career. “Out of the Pines,” he explained, is about “not being good at at getting up and going to work.” (Work from home is great for this, it’s 11:30 as I write this and I’m still in my pajamas!) Another song was about a girlfriend who started going with his best friend, albeit told with some dramatic license, while one was inspired by a book a woman wrote about growing up in a cult in England. The set also included “Houdini and the Sucker Punch” and “No Place Like Home.”
This was my first time going to a show at Rams Head on Stage, and my first time in Annapolis. The venue has great sound, and it’s been remodeled recently and looks great. It’s in a lovely neighborhood near the water; the heat and humidity were noticeably less intense than here in DC. If you’re looking for a short road trip, there are lots of great, funky little shops; I picked up a comic and had a very tasty seafood dinner. It’s a great venue, and a great excursion if you’re looking to get out of your usual rut for the evening.
Here are a few pictures of Paul Bruntnell performing at Rams Head on Stage on July 17, 2023. All pictures by Steve Satzberg.
Here are some photos of Son Volt performing at Rams Head on Stage on July 17, 2023. All pictures by Steve Satzberg.