||Stevie's been in the
so long now, he's just
beginning to realize
with the help of Clapton,
Townshend and Albert
King that everybody's
eyes are on him.
by Bruce Nixon
WAS UP. Stevie Ray Vaughan looked
like the cat that swallowed the canary. He had plenty of
reason to be pleased, of course: a few weeks earlier, Vaughan
and his band, Double Trouble, had recieved their first Grammy
(in the ethnic music category, for some tunes on a Montreux
Jazz Festival blues anthology), capping a year in which
they'd won a number of other industry awards. After seeing
their first two albums climb into the upper reaches of the
charts, they'd toured widely at home and abroad, and were, at
that moment, in the midst of finishing up work on their third
record, Soul to Soul.
But something more than a year of new triumphs and
successes was on Stevie Ray's mind, and he was being
deliberately and playfully vague. Nothing arouses the
curiosity faster than that. He positively seemed to glow.
Was he born again?
"Something like that." There was the faint wisp
of a knowing smile under the broad brimmed hat. It was a
white hat too not the black Man With No Name hat
that's become a trademark of sorts.
Quit drinking and smoking?
He held up his glass, "No."
Make up with his wife and family over something?
"That's part of it."
Vaughan grinned mischievously, and talk moved in other
directions. He was sitting in the dim corner of a lounge in a
pleasant North Dallas hotel, waiting to leave for the studio
where Soul to Soul was coming down the home stretch. A little
later the rest of the band came down drummer Chris
Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, an alumnus of the old
Johnny Winter band of the sixties and they clearly
possessed something of the same glow. Was it contagious?
"Yeah, some big changes have taken place. I haven't
resolved all my problems," Vaughan finally explained,
"but I'm working on it. I can see the problems, at
least, and that takes a lot of the pressure off. I've been
running from myself too long, and now I feel like I'm walking
During the course of a long conversation, there had been
hints of friction in his organization, a sense of the many
unpredictable pressures that had been placed on the band, but
Vaughan was referring to something else entirely. There's
sometime been a feeling, yes, that Stevie Ray Vaughan was
uncomfortable with his success, perhaps a bit bewildered by
it why should fate tap him, a humble blues guitarist?
or, at least, he was not totally prepared for it's
accompanying responsibilities. He was confused by the people
that were drawn to him because of his success and not because
of him or what is in his music. Despite all that's
happened to him in the past two years or so, Vaughan
possesses not so much as the slightest aura of rock stardom.
He seems very much the hardworking club player he used to be,
friendly, modest, down-to-earth. He chuckled at the memory of
playing Austin clubs years ago, making a few dollars for the
night and then borrowing money from the bartender to cover
the bar tab he laughed remembering that $1.36 was the
least he'd ever earned from a paying gig. But now, the
success is there just the same, and at some point, he finally
began to reach an understanding of it all. He's getting used
to the attention, the stargazers and the paparazzi.
Vaughan remained vague about some of the particulars
it was an element of privacy he seemed to be reserving
for himself although he was quite amiable, and talked
at great length about his current album and about some of his
plans for the immediate future. He was very excited about the
new Lonny Mack album, just about to hit the streets the time
of the interview, an album which he co-produced in Austin
last year, and on which he played. He'd picked up a few
important lessons in life from the veteran guitarist: Mack,
of course, has seen it all and done it all in his long
career, and lived with success and without it, and he still
plays up a storm. "He's getting younger all the time,
too," Stevie Ray chuckled. "I swear he is. Look at
him reeeal close."
He smiled: "I sat down and talked to the man, and
he's one of the men who will sit down and talk to you, too.
And thank God for that! He's a wonderful cat. He opened my
eyes to a lot of things."
While Double Trouble was touring in Australia recently,
the band crossed paths with Eric Clapton, another player
whose work reflects very personal, quest-like grapplings with
the accouterments of success. "He didn't tell me what to
do," Vaughan said. "He told me how it had been for
him." Afterwards, Clapton and Vaughan had holed up in a
hotel room for a few hours, talking about success and it's
pitfalls. Vaughan didn't want to elaborate on exactly what
was said, but it was clear that Clapton's wisdom involved
star qualities that Stevie had to acknowledge in order to
deal with them.
"Then, we were working with Albert King, and he
came up to me, and he said, 'Man, we got to sit down and have
a little heart-to-heart.' You sit down like that with Albert
King and you grow."
And Vaughan remembered something that came from Johnny
Winter, who'd preceded him down the long path, the first
white Texas blues guitar hero.
"He said something to me when the first record was
doing so well," he recalled. "It made me feel a lot
of respect for what we did, for the music. He said that he
wanted me to know that people like Muddy Waters and the cats
who started it all really had respect for what we're doing
because it made people respect them. We're not taking
credit for the music. We're trying to give it back."
A few weeks later, when I talked to Vaughan again, he
elaborated on his relationship with Albert King. It was
almost midnight, a warm Dallas spring night, and we were
driving across the northwest part of the city looking for
hamburgers while rough mixes of the new album played on the
tape deck. "Albert calls me his godson," Vaughan
said. "He'll look at you and talk to you, that's the
thing. He's pleased with what we've done, and he explained
some simple things don't get high when you're workin
'cause you're having too much fun and you don't see the
people fuckin' you around. Have fun that's great
but pay attention. That happened when things were
happening so fast, and it was real important to hear that
kind of stuff. He knows. He's been through it. You wake up
one day back in the clubs without a whole lot to show for
what you've been through."
Sitting in the car, while a waitress brought trays of
burgers and beer an old Texas all-night drive-in, the
only thing left open Vaughan added that he planned to
produce a new album for Albert King on the recently
reactivated Blue Note label, and that they hoped to cut it in
Austin. Talk turned back to Lonny Mack. "He's something
between a daddy and a brother," Vaughan explained.
"When he sees something that needs to be talked about,
he'll talk. He understands. He's deep, real deep, and a warm
kind of deep. He wanted to produce us a couple, three years
ago, but it didn't happen then, of course, and things have
just worked out like they have. The way I look at it, we're
just giving back to him what he did for all of us. It wasn't
a case of me doing something for him it was me getting
a chance to work with him.
"You know," he added, "the way people come
into your life when you need them, it's wonderful and it
happens in so many ways. It's like having an angel. Somebody
comes along and helps you get right."
"We're not taking
credit for the
music of Muddy
and the cats who
started it all.
We're trying to
give it back."
Continued in part two...