For a lot of people – especially folks from Texas – Doug Sahm was more than just an everyday singer. He was a spokesman for all forms of music that Texans loved. Sahm was a multi-instrumentalist who made his first record in elementary school, and purportedly sang a song with Hank Sr. at his final show. And his Sir Douglas Quintet in the 1960s saw some chart success.
Sahm’s numerous influences growing up and performing in San Antonio led to playing his own brand of Tejano, or Tex-Mex music, but with his own unique stamp from years of singing country and playing in blues clubs. And even though he didn’t write it and wasn’t the first one to record it, “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” is a song that he became widely identified with.
The opening track from the 1973 album Doug Sahm and Band, “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” is the story of a guy who’s looking for a warm and dry place to land after the end of a bad relationship. The song named for his home town must have resonated with Sahm, who obviously could have cut anything he wanted, including more of his own material, or even material by his friend and background vocalist on this song, a guy named Bob Dylan. This heartbreak tune wasn’t based on the most revolutionary of ideas, but it was pretty successful for its Nashville writers Glenn Martin and Dave Kirby, who had a major success with it when Charley Pride originally cut it in 1970. Martin didn’t remember much about Sahm’s recording of the song – nothing, really, in fact – because Pride’s version was the real moneymaker and Sahm wasn’t all that well-known in country circles. But Martin does remember the day he and Kirby came up with it in the time it took to drive to Georgia.
“We were going to Atlanta for something and we wrote it in the car,” recalls Martin, whose sons Tony and Troy Martin became big-time Music Row songsmiths themselves. “We were both writers for Tree [Music Publishing]. Dave was a great guitar player and a great writer, especially with melodies. After we got home from the trip we laid it down, and Charley cut it.”
Sahm’s version of “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” and the album it came from, didn’t make him the star many people (including producer Jerry Wexler, who had signed him to Atlantic) felt he should have been. But he had a pretty good career as far as it goes, playing with the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven, and appearing on albums by the Grateful Dead, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson and others. And the song lives on with its inclusion on several live and greatest-hits albums.
Doug Sahm died in his sleep in a New Mexico motel room in 1999. Today he is considered one of the most important American artists of Tex-Mex, and if he were around today he’d no doubt be in the thick of the Americana scene.