Jimmie Vaughan Interview - Jimmie Lee Gets the Organ Combo

Smooth open position riffs and rich Hammond organ sounds define the laid back approach of one the most well-known purveyors of retro-cool blues on the circuit today: Jimmie Vaughan.

With "Do You Get The Blues?", the just-released third solo disc from the former Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist (and founder), Vaughan carries on in a tradition that he alone seems to have mastered. It's a blend of '60s organ combos and Texas blues that just begs to be heard from the dashboard of a vintage automobile on an open road. Preferably a long, empty stretch of road without the distractions of strip malls or even those pesky FM radio signals.

Jimmie spoke with Guitar.com at length about the special guest and songwriting partners he pulled in for the album, about his Signature model Fender Strat, and about his hobby of refinishing aforementioned modes of transport. Enjoy.

Guitar.com: You produced one song on each of your past two albums. What made you decide to produce this entire album? 

Jimmie Vaughan: I wanted to do it...even with the other guys [Editor's Note: past producers Nile Rodgers and John Hampton] I'd always argue with them. [laughs] There was less arguing -- I had to argue with myself. It had to do with the budget. This budget wasn't quite as large, and it was just a conscious decision to do it myself.

Guitar.com: Had there been times in the past when things didn't totally turn out the way you had envisioned?

Vaughan: They never turn out the way you envision them, but they always turn out pretty good. It wasn't that so much as that I just wanted to do it my way. It was the way the timing went down, and the availability of the studios, and the budget, and everything -- it just was a lot cheaper if I did it myself. And for every reason.

Guitar.com: It's a big responsibility overseeing everything like that at the same time as you're trying to play and sing...

Vaughan: Well, I only did the music. My guys that work with me kept it together and I just did the music. It was a big responsibility, but, 'Be true to thy known self.' It's all I've ever had to do. And I love people to like my music, so I'm not trying to run 'em off, but I have to like it too. So I figure if I really like it, hopefully they will. And maybe they can come over to my side and understand.

Guitar.com: Did you record the basic tracks live?

Vaughan: Yeah. A lot of that stuff was first take.

Guitar.com: In the past you've had another guitarist with you, but you decided to record this one on your own?

Vaughan: Well, yeah. In the past Nile (Rodgers) would play on some stuff. But I did most of it. I have Billy Pittman when we play live. I just went in with Bill Willis (Hammond B-3) and George Rains (drums and percussion) and myself. I'd say, 'Here's the idea,' and we'd do it three or four times, then record it. And then, I'd come back and sing it over, or play a rhythm part or a lead. There was overdubbing going on.

Guitar.com: The material here is so smooth and laid back. What were you influenced by for this recording?

Vaughan: I was listening to a lot of jazz records, and I was listening to everything from Little Jimmy Scott to Sarah Vaughan, and all the way to Lightnin' Hopkins and Johnny Watson. Jazz records, saxophone players -- just the kind of stuff that turned me on. I like the little small combos, and Bill is such a great player on the organ -- and he plays bass too -- so he's just natural. Playing with him and George is like a merry-go-round: You just kind of run up and jump on and ride.

Guitar.com: Does Bill kick the bass on the foot pedals?

Vaughan: No, he plays with his left hand.

Guitar.com: Besides the three tracks where you had guests Tommy Shannon, Roscoe Beck, and Billy Horton actually play bass, there are other tracks on here where it does not sound like an organ bass at all. It sounds like a real bass...

Vaughan: Well, he does actually play bass guitar, but he's also an organ player, so he's an expert (at bass lines). Hammond organs are amazing instruments. The sound from the wood and tubes is just amazing. Since I met Bill -- it's always been a dream 'cause I've always been into all the organ trios. That's what I like. It's like having the whole Baptist Church in your band.

Guitar.com: You've listened to a lot of Hammond players such as Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff and that kind of stuff?

Vaughan: All that.

Guitar.com: There was an organ combo album featuring Howard Roberts -- the founder of the Musician's Institute in Hollywood -- on guitar...

Vaughan: Howard Roberts is a Dirty Guitar Player -- that was a good one. Back when I started playing this sound was pretty big. There were a lot of organ trios around, and I always loved that. I'd rather have that than anything. I don't really try to be current in a trendy kind of way. I do what I like.

Guitar.com: You've got some great guests on here: James Cotton, Double Trouble, Roscoe Beck. Lou Ann Barton sings a couple of songs. And you've even got your son Tyrone on here.

Vaughan: My son plays guitar with me on "Without You." He wrote the song too.

Guitar.com: Tell us about Tyrone.

Vaughan: He's 28. He's been playing for several years and he's got a band here in Austin. He plays around. And he's quite a songwriter.

Guitar.com: Does the band play under his name or is there a band name?

Vaughan: Tyrone Vaughan.

Guitar.com: I notice a lot of songwriting credits on the album for Greg Sain. Who is Greg?

Vaughan: I wrote all the music. Greg wrote a lot of the lyrics.

Guitar.com: Is he one of your background singers -- one of the guys that's been with you for a few years?

Vaughan: Yes he is. He's a great songwriter, and a fabulous singer. He really helped me a lot with the melodies, and especially the lyrics.

Guitar.com: And who is Paul Ray, who also has had a lot of credits on your albums?

Vaughan: I've written a lot of songs with him over the years. He's a disc jockey here in Austin. I've known him since 1970. He's the jazz/blues disc jockey here in town. He helped me out with lyrics, and he plays drums, bass, guitar, and he's a singer.

Guitar.com: So you got all kinds of friends on here. That makes it feel good.

Vaughan: Oh yeah.

Guitar.com: Had you done anything with James Cotton before?

Vaughan: Yeah. I've played with him several times over the years. I played on an Antone's album about 12 or 15 years ago (find out more at www.antones.com). And he moved to town and he's been living here for a few years. When I did "The Deep End," which is dedicated to Muddy Waters, it was perfect to get James Cotton, a former Muddy Waters band member. I played on James' record too. It hasn't come out yet.

Guitar.com: You played some Muddy style slide on that as well. Muddy was a big influence on you...

Vaughan: There's a story behind that. The first time we played at Antones [Editor's Note: Antone's is a famous blues club in Austin, Texas. Find out more at www.antones.net] opening for Muddy Waters -- the first time Muddy came to Antone's, the T-Birds were the opening band. Muddy's band was upstairs in the dressing room, and I pulled out a slide and kind of did a Muddy Waters thing. I saw the curtain open up, and he looked down. The next night, I did it again, and Muddy came on stage and got behind me and put his hands around my neck and started chokin' me -- joking around. Then later on that night he said, 'You do that pretty good. When I'm gone, I want you to do that, and show people how that went.' I never forgot that, and when I wrote "The Deep End" I thought, 'Maybe this is a perfect thing.' So it's dedicated to Muddy Waters. And it's the first single.

Guitar.com: What gear are you using on this album?

Vaughan: It's my signature model Fender Strat, and a Matchless amp, and a Fender Bassman.

Guitar.com: I want you to tell us all about the Strat, but first let's cover the rest of your gear real quick. What model Matchless?

Vaughan: It's a Clubman. It's a piggy-back 4x10.

Guitar.com: And the Bassman -- new or vintage?

Vaughan: It's a brand new one.

Guitar.com: Do you use a capo a lot on this album?

Vaughan: Yes.

Guitar.com: Run down, for each song, what fret you put the capo on.

Vaughan: If the song is in F, the capo is on the first fret. If the song is in G, the capo is on the third fret. If the song is in C, the capo is on the eighth fret. I don't tune any different, I tune normal and just put the capo on there. There's a big long line of tradition of that: Gatemouth Brown, Guitar Slim, Johnny Guitar Watson, Pee Wee Crayton, a lot of guys like Lightnin' Hopkins would use a capo once in awhile. It's a way to play in E, all the time.

Guitar.com: To play as if you were in open position all the time.

Vaughan: Right. And that helps me with my playing, and helps me sound more like myself.

Guitar.com: You like open-position riffs.

Vaughan: Very much so because you get a lot more -- I don't know -- it's more talking. I can make the guitar talk better that way. But I also play without the capo and do on some of the album. Whatever works for the song.

Guitar.com: You use a Shubb capo?

Vaughan: Yes. They're pretty and they're little. They're not some big nasty looking thing. They don't look like a C-clamp on your guitar. I don't care for that.

Guitar.com: Do you use any effects?

Vaughan: No, just the guitar. There's a lot of acoustic guitar on this album. "The Deep End" is acoustic; "Don't Let The Sun Set" is acoustic.

Guitar.com: What kind of acoustic guitars do you use?

Vaughan: I like f-hole guitars. Arch-top guitars. I have one called a Regal Bobcat. I bought that for about $200 about 10 years ago. It's the same one I used on Strange Pleasure. And I bought one in California, an old Craftsman. I like the ones that are in the back and nobody wants 'em.

Guitar.com: It sounds like you're playing with your fingers on a lot of this record. Do you use guitar picks?

Vaughan: I use them sometimes. And sometimes I use my fingers. I use the pick some but I use my fingers mostly. I've used my fingers more the past 10 years. When I left the T-Birds, I bought the Regal Bobcat and I went back to the capo and fingers. I was really into Lightnin' Hopkins and Little Son Jackson kind of stuff. I was really gettin' into that, and trying to find my own voice. It led to sort of the current thing that I'm doing. I guess it does sound more traditional, but I didn't do it for that reason. In the search for your own voice, I really tried to listen for what it was I was hearing myself. Instead of hearing what somebody else does, I said, 'What do you want to hear, Jimmie Vaughan? Listen and see what it is you're hearing, and what's in there.'

So I would just take my acoustic guitar and go out back and sit there and play. If I'd hear something, I'd try to play that. I tried to develop that "muscle," if you want to call it that. There's just so much stuff going on in life, and it's just so much noise, it's hard to get alone with yourself to figure out what it is that you want to hear. So I tried to learn what it is I want to hear, and do that. One time this guy told me, 'I'm just trying to play what I want to hear.' And I thought, 'Well that sounds weird.' But I wound up thinking about it, and he was right. So that's what I'd like to do.

Guitar.com: Are you getting there?

Vaughan: I'm getting there inch by inch.

Guitar.com: It's the same as the ongoing, life-long quest for the perfect tone.

Vaughan: Or just a good tone. Not perfect. You're always twiddling with the knob a little bit to get it just right.

Guitar.com: How would you characterize your music, overall?

Vaughan: It's American music. My kind of music, you bring your girlfriend and dance. It's just what the music is about. It's American music; it's about being an American -- I guess [laughs]. I always thought it would be good to do an article in a guitar magazine about how to get a date and take them to the gig, as opposed to, you play a gig and there's a bunch of guys in the front row. There's like five guitar players standing in front of the band trying to see what key you're playing in. That's always irritating. [laughs]

Guitar.com: You'd probably rather see some pretty faces out there instead...

Vaughan: Yeah! Wouldn't that be great for an article? I don't know if I'd be the guy to do the article...

Guitar.com: Yes it would. Do you have any suggestions?

Vaughan: That pretty much says it right there. The music is all about being in love, and girls, and about life. It's not about a bunch of guys. [laughs]

Just can't get enough? Check out...