Douglas Wayne Sahm, musician in several popular genres, was born to Viva Lee and Victor A. Sahm, Sr., on November 6, 1941, in San Antonio. Sahm was a musical prodigy who, at an early age, began playing with a local band. He was singing on the radio at the age of five and was so gifted that he could play the fiddle, steel guitar, and mandolin by the time he was eight years old. Around this age, he appeared on the Louisiana Hayride, and before he was a teenager, Little Doug Sahm, as he was known, had played onstage with such greats as Hank Thompson, Faron Young, and Hank Williams. When he was thirteen he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, but had to decline so he would not miss school. Growing up in a predominantly African-American section of San Antonio, Sahm's early influences also included such blues and rock pioneers as T-Bone Walker, Bobby Bland, Howlin' Wolf, and Fats Domino. As a youth, Sahm released a number of local singles, including "A Real American Joe" for Sarg Records.
Sahm's career spanned over four decades and encompassed a variety of musical styles, including German polkas, blues, rock, and Tejano. In the 1950s he attended Sam Houston High School, San Antonio, where he formed several bands, including the Dell-Kings, Pharaohs, and Markays. In 1964 he helped found the Sir Douglas Quintet under the direction of producer Huey P. Meaux. This outlandish group of Texans, which included Sahm's friend Augie Meyers, dressed up and pretended to be part of the so-called "British Invasion" of the mid-1960s. Sahm wrote the quintet's 1965 smash hit, "She's About a Mover," which made the Top 20 chart. The group's second single, "The Rains Came," made the Top 40. Sahm moved to San Francisco in 1966 and continued to record. He had further successes, including the single "Mendocino," which made the Top 40 in 1969. The quintet broke up by 1972.
In the 1970s he moved to Austin and became a member of the "Cosmic Cowboy" scene, along with Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. He was signed by Atlantic Records in 1973. With help from his friends Flaco Jiménez, Bob Dylan, and Dr. John, Sahm released the album Doug Sahm and Band, which included the song "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?" Later in 1973 he released the album Texas Tornado. He continued making records throughout the 1970s and 1980s for different labels, including his popular 1974 album Groover's Paradise (Warner Brothers), and Sahm and Meyers toured Europe. Sahm's album Juke Box Music won an Indie, the award of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufacturers, in 1989.
In 1989 Sahm teamed up with Freddie Fender, Flaco Jiménez, and Augie Meyers to form the Texas Tornados. The group produced a soulful mix of country music, blues, ballad singing, Texas rock-and-roll, and conjunto. They were signed by Reprise Records in 1990 and released their first album, Texas Tornados, later that year. The album, in both English and Spanish, was well received by fans and critics alike. It quickly charted on Billboard's rock, Latin, and country charts. In 1991 their song "Soy de San Luis" from that album won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance. During the 1990s the Tornados toured and released several other successful albums, including Zone of Our Own and Hangin' on by a Thread. Sahm also re-formed the Sir Douglas Quintet with his sons Shawn and Shandon. The Tornados were planning a 2000 European concert tour when Sahm was found dead of heart disease in his hotel room in Taos, New Mexico, on November 18, 1999. He was married and divorced and had two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. Doug Sahm was buried in Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio.
The Return of Wayne Douglas, his last album of original material, was released in 2000. In 2002 the Americana Music Association named him recipient of their President's Award. Sahm also has been honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, and in 2008 he was an inaugural inductee into the Austin Music Memorial. In 2008 the city of Austin approved the naming of Doug Sahm Hill, the highest point of a park near Lady Bird Lake, in Sahm's honor. Vanguard Records released a tribute album, Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm, in 2009 to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. In the 2010s his son Shawn toured with the surviving Texas Tornados and carried on his father’s musical legacy. A documentary film by Joe Nick Patoski—Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove—premiered at South by Southwest on March 19, 2015, and a tribute concert filled with Texas music legends took place two days later .