ARE COMING TOGETHER.
Vaughan, Shannon and Layton together, talking about the new
record could scarcely contain their excitement. A lot of
people have wondered how far yet another Texas guitarslinger
could carry the blues thing, and Vaughan has attempted to
formulate an answer. He wanted to make a happy record, he
said, full of buoyant moods. Shorter songs, less heavy
breathing from the guitar, some new instrumental
combinations. On Soul to Soul, you hear a lot of the Stevie
Ray Vaughan trademarks, but it still has a good-time, uptown
feel a strong trace of r&b that separates
it from Vaughans first two albums. The guitar
showpieces are there, but its clear that Vaughan sets
out to accomplish something different with this record.
Im real close to it, and so its hard to
get a good perspective on it, he said, but
theres a lot of rockin songs and then some that
weve never played before. Theres definitely blues
in it not less blues than before but its
a type of music that we havent really tried before,
some different kinds of changes. There are a few other
players here and there that people wont expect, some
keyboards [ex-Delbert McClinton ivories tinkler Reese Wynans
has been added to Double Trouble. ed.].
At that particular time, the band was working nightly at
Dallas Sound Laboratory, a 48-track digitally-capable
facility in the Dallas Communications Complex at Las Colinas,
just northwest of the city. Theyd booked the studio in
great 24-hour chunks of time, and had even recorded
rehearsals, and Vaughan was finding those sorts of conditions
pretty luxurious one of the benefits of having two
successful albums under his belt. It helped shape the
character of the music on the new record.
Its helping a lot, Vaughan explained,
because weve gotten to work on individual
technique and things, so that weve come down to playing
more like we wanted to play in the first place. To do that we
had to cut in the studio and sit down and listen to it.
Weve always been forced to work a lot faster than this
before, and we play so many gigs on the road that we
dont have the time to listen to ourselves as closely as
we should all the time. You go and play for an hour and a
half and then go to the next place, and you dont get a
chance to catch whats changing in your music,
whats working and whats not working. We love to
play shows dont misunderstand me on that
but its hard to ask how did we improve, or did we? We
have fun when we play, but the studio is a blessing that a
lot of people forget about, maybe.
He said that we were recording the album the old
way, live, in the same room together, and without
headphones. Ive got every amp I own in the studio
and all going all out at once, Vaughan laughed.
They had to build a new monitor system for us.
The studio, he explained, was set up like a stage, but with
the amps aimed in such a way that the other players could
hear what was coming out of them. Vaughan even played drums
on one cut, but it was too slow, so the song was speeded up
to raise its pitch a half-step.
Were recording the old way and using the best
modern equipment we can find, and its a good
combination, Vaughan said. We go in and cut a
song a few times if we need to, or just do a set. At this
point, were pretty fine tuned, and were watching
it grow as it goes. Were all looking at it, and we have
a lot of ideas, things weve wanted to have a chance to
Double Trouble had toured for 18½ months prior to the
release of Couldnt Stand the Weather in 84, and
then they took two months off before starting a new project.
We didnt realize how hard it was to just go play
cold, without playing in front of people again. Id
never thought about that before. Wed rehearse
try to play this and that but we didnt play in
front of people. Youd be amazed how hard it is not to
play in front of people.
In any case, you dont get the sense that a lot of
career planning goes into a Double Trouble album no
big calculations about how it should sound or how may units
it should sell. Whats charted, mainly, is the growth of
Vaughan and the band.
Were trying for feeling. We try to accomplish
something with the music, which is to feel through things.
Ive been trying to grow up some myself, in my heart,
and its happening quick. I feel good about it, and I
want that to come out in the music.
Meanwhile, Vaughan remains like many Texas
guitarists a diehard Stratocaster player who uses a
minimum of effects. For the new album, hes stuck mostly
with the white, Strat-style guitar he posed with for the
cover of Couldnt Stand The Weather. Built in 1983 for
Vaughan by his friend, the late Dallas guitar dealer and
repairman Charley Wirz, the guitar features Danelectro
pickups and custom wiring. The instruments sound is
exemplified by the light quickly strummed break in Tin
Pan Alley Blues, which was recorded with only a low
A simple message is engraved a the metal plate where the
neck joins the body on the back of the guitar: To
Stevie From Charley. More in 84. Its rather
characteristic of the generous spirit that Vaughans
early success inspired in many of his old Texas fans
indeed, Soul To Soul is dedicated to Wirz.
Ive been going between that guitar, the
beat-up 59 Strat and the other guitar that Charley
found for me, a 61 Strat said Vaughan.
Its brutal. They a have that neck, and I
associate them with Charley I didnt get the
59 from him, but he worked on it so may times that it
feels like I did, I guess. I like the white one. It sounds
like my old beat-up one, but its cleaner, not quite as
full-sounding. And Charley never told anybody but me what he
did when he wired it.
But thats the sound, he added.
That Leslie and that guitar, if the amps working
clean. You have to use the right amp, like a Super, with the
Leslie and a Vibraverb head its really a steel
guitar head. If you set em all up in a live room, it
sounds great. I dont use a chorus I like to get
that sound with a Leslie too. Its old-fashioned, but
Im trying to bring it up-to-date.
Vaughan is fairly vague about his amp set-up, though he
admits to keeping two Vibraverbs, two Super Reverbs, a Dumble
150-watt Steel String Singer (which hed stopped using
for a while, but returned to recently) and the Leslie all
hooked together. The actual combination, he explained, was
determined over a period of time by which amp worked when,
until he accidentally came up with a combination that he
Other amps seem to come and go indeed, in the
several weeks between interviews, hed acquired another
Fender. Theyre hooked up pretty straight I
guess, he grinned. I have a Tube Screamer, a wah
and the Leslie on my pedal board, and a on-off switch for
everything, so that when I switch it off, between the guitar
and amp there aint nothin. When I do a song like
Third Stone From The Sun, I cant control
the feedback with the effects on. It goes crazy, so I switch
em all off ad then kick it back in when Im done.
Its mostly straight though a weird set-up
but pretty straight. In addition to that, he continues
to play with his guitar tuned a half-step low
E-flat tuning he calls it and he said that
before Wirz died earlier this year, they had discussed
building a custom-scale neck that would allow Vaughan to use
the tuning without transposing with concert-pitch
instruments. It sounds like a impossible idea, but who knows?
When two stone guitar fools like Stevie and Charley got
together, anything was possible.
Vaughans use of the low-pitch tuning was Hendrix
inspired, in any case. He did a lot, said Stevie Ray.
It gives you different overtones. Its an
interesting sound, and I find it a lot easier to sing
to. Hes also acquired the wah pedal used by
Hendrix to record Up From The Sky. He speaks
without any self-consciousness about Hendrix, with whom he
has often been compared. In May, Vaughan played a solo
version of The Star Spangled Banner at the
Houston Astros home opener at the Astrodome.
Immediately, people recalled the world-weary, apocalyptic
version played by Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969. And the
performance triggered yet a new round of comparisons between
Hendrix and Stevie.
I heard they even wrote about it in one of the music
magazines said Vaughan. They tried to put the two
versions side by side. I hate that stuff. His version was
great. And yet the comparison exists if only
because Vaughan includes at least one, or two (and sometimes
three) Hendrix songs in each live show, because he featured a
well known Hendrix song (Voodoo Chile) on his
second album, and most of all, perhaps, because he captures
the spirit of the improvisational Hendrix on stage more
accurately than any other contemporary guitarist.
An affinity obviously exists. In Texas, Vaughan is
regarded by his old crowd as a hot blues player with a tight
band and a lot of rock and roll in his sound; the blues
variations are still common in Texas clubs. His music has
been refined and expanded by all the work and opportunities
that have come his way in the past two or three years, but at
its core, its still the steamy, torrid blues he played
in the late-Seventies. The people outside Texas those
less familiar with his story, who know his work only from
records and the hype of the last few years have turned
Vaughan s long-standing love for Hendrixs work
into a point of comparison. Vaughan himself feels its
all been overplayed.
According to one person in his organization, Vaughan
labored long and hard over the decision to add Voodoo
Chile to Couldnt Stand The Weather, and that he
finally decided to include the song because he felt that his
younger audience hadnt heard Hendrix, and he wanted to
spread the word.
I loved his music, and I feel like its
important to hear what he was doing, just like anybody else,
like Albert, B.B. or any of that stuff, Vaughan
remarked. I wanted to do the song, but I didnt
want to mistreat it. I try to take care of his music, and it
takes care of me. Treat it with respect, not as a burden-like
you have to put a guy down cause he plays from it.
Thats crazy. I respect him for his life and his
At a Dallas Show in late April, Vaughan used the Wirz
Strat and the 59, and, when a string broke on that
guitar, a custom Hamilton. On slow blues like Tin Pan
Alley, the white guitar had a thin, edgy, cutting
sound, sweet but hard. The 59 Strat is a fuller,
chunkier-sounding guitar, more of a rocker, more typical of
the thick tones on Couldnt Stand The Weather; it is
Vaughans instrument of choice when he does Hendrix
While they werent airing many new tunes that night
it was a free concert with Lonnie Mack, in front of a
hometown crowd Double Trouble were debuting their new
keyboard player (who appears on Soul To Soul), Reese Wynans.
Vaughan himself played beautifully that night: his slow blues
remain vehicles for gorgeous displays of phrasing and tone,
and he has a growing arsenal of tricks and techniques, from
his flowing, syncopated strum (Pride And Joy) to
funky, overstated string-snapping effects. In the past two
years, hes learned a lot about working an audience as
well. In the clubs he was a straightforward, stand-up player.
Today hes a good showman as well. Getting that
passion, says Stevie Ray, thats what I try
Within days of the Dallas date, the new Lonnie Mack album,
Strike Like Lightning (Alligator), finally hit the stores; it
was the first record from the legendary guitarist in some
seven years. While Vaughan downplays his role as co-producer
its his first production effort outside Double
Trouble its clear enough from the handful of
guitar duels included on the album that Vaughan helped create
a heck of a guitar album. Vaughan, of course, has always
acknowledged Macks influence on his own playing
Wham! was the first single he ever owned
and the two hit it off wonderfully when they finally began
working together. The empathy and interplay is obvious.
Vaughan remembered the first time he met Mack. It was 1978
or 79, and an earlier version of Double Trouble
(without Layton) was playing in a club in Austin when Mack
walked in. I was playing the second chord of
Wham! that night when he came through the
door, Vaughan said. We did the shit outta
Wham! It was cookin. And there was Lonnie
Mack. At first, I didnt even recognize him. Man, it was
like magic. At the time, Mack was assembling a new road
band, and he approached Vaughan about joining him. That never
came to pass, of course, but the two remained friends over
the years. When Alligator signed Mack in mid-1984, Mack and
Alligator president Bruce Iglauer talked to Vaughan about
producing the record, and he agreed instantly.
They were his tunes, and I just tried to help him
with what he wanted to do with the record; thats what I
think producing is, Vaughan said. A lot of
producing is just being there, and with Lonnie, just
reminding him of his influence on myself and other guitar
players. Most of us got a lot from him. Nobody else can play
with a whammy bar like him: he holds it while he plays, and
the sound sends chills up your spine. You cant do that
with a Stratocaster. I just didnt want to sound
like I was trying to direct the record. Things are
moving pretty fast for Vaughan, but he has a feeling that
this is only the beginning. The beginning wasnt David
Bowies Lets Dance, which helped showcase his work
to the greater rock and roll public, or even Texas Flood,
whose chart success seemed to surprise just about everyone,
because of how far-removed it was from the pop mood of that
The beginning is now this new attitude, the
self-sustenance and self-reliance, the sense of faith in the
future. What Vaughan stands to accomplish, perhaps, is an
important service to the blues. The music is widely enough
recognized as the foundation of rock and roll, but Vaughan
may have the opportunity to bring the blues back into the
current mainstream of rock in new ways, at a new level. He
may, in fact as Albert King has suggested take
the color out of the blues.
I do feel as though Ive grown as a player
through all this, Vaughan remarked at one point.
Its funny Im trying to get back to
how I used to play years and years ago, and yet, at the same
time, to make those ideas grow, tie them into what were
doing now. I guess Im just remembering where all these
things come from. Its all pretty regular music to me,
what I grew up with: the Glorytunes, Johnny G. and the G-Men.
I used to hear some of those old bands in Dallas, at the
Heights Theater in Oak Cliff, in 62 and 63.
Now, I use heavy strings, tune low, play hard, and
floor it. He laughed. Floor, it. Another
chuckle. Thats technical talk.