Stevie Ray Vaughan Interview - The Real Deal
An astounding amalgam of Texas blues slinger, Lonnie Mack devotee and Hendrix stylist, Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American original, the like of which we won't see again anytime soon. As with other musicians of genius -- Miles Davis, Duane Allman, Charlie Parker, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Coltrane -- Vaughan had that special quality which connects the musician, his songs, and his audience to some greater force that propels the artist to astounding heights of melodic and/or improvisational beauty. Sound corny? Check out the compilation CD, The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 and your jaw will forever be zapped shut.
Vaughan scales mountains of lyrical grace on "Rivera Paradise," his tone as lush and shimmering as a sunset. Fat barre chords add a jazzy touch, odd effects create an edifice of mysterious beauty. "Love Struck Baby" is Stevie in skanky blues overdrive, his huge hands bending the guitar strings, bleeding them dry with emotion and power. A live rendition of "Superstition" scorches, peals, and burns, with a howling solo and Vaughan's impassioned vocal (Vaughan was a criminally underrated singer). The wigged out shuffle of "Empty Arms" finds Stevie whirling and prancing with glee, his stinging attack and swinging chords creating an feeling of pure ecstasy. "Leave My Girl Alone" is a guitarist's highlight, an astounding, spellbinding dance with the devil on six strings. Sony/ Legacy has also newly remastered and reissued Vaughan's entire back catalog with additional tracks, a must have for any SRV fan.
Vaughan, a large Texan with a gentle, ugly face, was a warm and revealing interview. Initially speaking about his influences, his brother Jimmie Vaughan, and Texas, Vaughan slowly changes the focus to his years of chronic alcohol and drug abuse, and how they almost ruined his life and his work. Intimate and heartfelt, Vaughan relates how he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital and when he seemed to be in recovery, how he lied to his mother to feed his still raging habit. As if proselytizing like a convert to a new faith, Vaughan set the record with sobering frankness.
The interview was conducted in 1989 to promote his then new album, In Step, which went gold and garnered SRV his first Grammy award. Sadly, Vaughan played his last show on August 27, 1990. The concert was performed with fellow bluesmen Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and brother Jimmie at East Troy, Wisconsin. A mere 40 minutes after the gig Vaughan's helicopter crashed into a hillside en route to Chicago. Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35.
Guitar.com: The blues isn't the most complicated form of music, but it's hard to execute with soul and passion.
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Well, my brother [Jimmie Vaughan] taught me a lot about soul. The way he played, for one, was a very big influence on me. Watching him learn how to play was a amazing. He got a guitar that had three strings on it and he wrote three songs the first day. He just made ?em up. They weren't necessarily genius works, but he started learning more about it and it was a not long at all before he was the hottest guitar player in Texas.
Guitar.com: What guitarists were you and he into then?
Vaughan: At the very first we were trying to learn Jimmy Reed stuff and Jimmie learned "Pipeline" right off the bat. We both tried, he had it. And there was this guy Robert Louis Stevenson who played around the Jacksboro Highway. He showed us pop songs like "Linda Lou" and "Oh Donna," and all these things. At that time Jimmy Reed was big on the radio, it was before the British invasion. So it started off with a lot of that influence. Then Jimmie came home. Now it seems like it all happened that quick (snaps his fingers), with everything from Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters to B.B. King.
Guitar.com: How did you meet with [white blues pioneer] John Hammond? wasn't he semi-retired at the time?
Vaughan: I think it was about ten years into his retirement. Our manager had been trying to put us in contact with him. And his son had seen us at Montreux. He knew his dad would dig it. To have someone like him really dig what I was trying to do was great. I met him and brought a record I had made just for him. He sat there with that same smile that he has on the back of Texas Flood, when we are all in the studio. He would sit there and [the music would] flood over him. He would listen with his heart.
Guitar.com: Were you and your brother into Magic Sam at all?
Vaughan: Later on I was, I don't know about Jimmie. At the same time, we were inspired by The Beatles, the Bluesbreakers, The Stones, The Who, Jeff Beck, all this R&B stuff. We just went from there. My first real big influences were Albert King, and Lonnie Mack.
Guitar.com: You recorded an album with Lonnie in 1985. What was that experience like?
Vaughan: Well I had always been a big fan of his. It is funny, we met when I was playing this club in Austin. We had just started the set and I hit the second chord and wham! Lonnie Mack walks in the door. The guy he was with leaned over to him and said, "I didn't know you was playing tonight Lonnie!" So I must have been doing it right (laughs).
Guitar.com: You can hear the similarities between your styles.
Vaughan: He was the one who wanted to produce us, but it didn't work out where we got the chance to do that. And then later on I got asked to do this album co-produced with him and I jumped on it. I got the chance to become friends with him from when I first met him and him doing the record. The guy himself has really been a good influence. Different sides of him, he's been like a brother, a real trusted friend. A daddy almost, the kind of help he would give me. Daddy is not an easy way to say it, but the kind of help and the patience he would show with what was going on with me, he'd try to help. That caring. You know some guys like that all your life, and maybe after your life.
Guitar.com: Who influenced your singing?
Vaughan: Doyle Bramhall, for one. We wrote a bunch of songs together for this record, I've known him since I was twelve. Listening to him, I learned more than from anybody. But whether I was doing interpretations of Bobby Bland or Ray Charles or whoever, I was just trying to do it as best I could. I'm always trying. But I don't know how to sing without tearing my throat up.
Guitar.com: Well, that's often what it sounds like, but it sounds great.
Vaughan: It didn't happen that way for a long time. It was years before my voice started going crazy on me. I think the dope I did for so many years, and the drinking I did for so many years finally broke some things down. And not knowing how to relax and take some time out took its toll.
Guitar.com: What kind of things did you work on to get your playing together?
Vaughan: I listened to all those guys I mentioned first. And I don't know when I stopped doing this but I used to try to learn to make the sounds with my mouth, then copy them with my guitar until I got it.
Guitar.com: Did it take years before you were smoking?
Vaughan: Aw, I dunno. Sometimes it smokes, and sometimes it sounds like white guys just playing notes to me (laughs).
Guitar.com: How did you come to cover "Texas Flood"?
Vaughan: It was a song that I had been in love with for years. It's by Larry Davis, and his version is just killer. Fenton Robinson on guitar and the way Larry sings it, the whole band is killer. When we did it I just had it in my head that is what I wanted the record to be called. Some people thought it was a demo tape, but I never looked at it like that.
Guitar.com: What newer blues artists do you like?
Vaughan: Jimmie is my favorite, and it is not just because he is my brother. That's got something to do with it but that is not the only reason. There are a lot of cats out doing it that I like but I am still partial to Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, Lonnie Brooks, Albert Collins and Albert and B.B. King. I just got to play with Buddy Guy at his new club called Legends in Chicago. Whew!
Guitar.com: When you played with Lonnie Mack...
Vaughan: I did the best I could considering the state of mind and being I was in at the time. I was pretty wrapped up in being addicted.
Guitar.com: I've read that you were so into Hendrix that you emulated his entire lifestyle. What made you stop?
Vaughan: I collapsed and had a nervous breakdown three years, a month and three days ago. My family and friends all helped amazing amounts. I went to the hospital. Not long afterwards we were in the middle of a tour, and we had to cancel the tour. But there was a period of time where it wasn't like, "Let's get him into the hospital," it was, "We have to keep going because we have commitments." But I went to see this doctor and he flat out told them, "No." He put me in the hospital in London, detoxed me, and watched what was going on for awhile because my stomach was really screwed up on top of a lot of other things. As soon as I got into the hospital I called my mother up and said, "I don't know if you knew this was coming or not, but I am in the hospital and this is what happened." "Where are you at?" she said. I told her and she was there the next day. I called my girlfriend, who was gonna try to meet up on my birthday [October 3]. She hadn't seen me in six months because I had been on a tear, didn't know how to act or what to be. She was there in two days. I called her and told her I wouldn't be able to make it and at the time it was more like she wanted to help, but as far as she was concerned, she wasn't necessarily my girlfriend, she was coming to see what was happening. She was a help regardless. That means a lot. [Double Trouble bandmates] Tommy [Shannon] and Chris [Layton] were really supportive, too. Once everyone realized you have to put the brakes on somewhere it was healthier.
Guitar.com: So, what do you do to recuperate?
Vaughan: I stayed in London for five days, took it easy. On the twelfth of October I flew back to Atlanta. While I was in London I had already looked into the Charter Hospitals and checked my self into Charter Peachford. It's funny, man. I got on the plane and realized I had never been on a plane sober. Even coming straight out of a hospital this will tell you how crazy, or how insane, addiction makes a person. (Long pause). I borrowed money from my mother to buy cigarettes and went straight to the bar on the plane, drank all the money, didn't get a buzz, went back and sat down. My mother knew exactly what had happened. I was able to say, "This is what I did." She said, "I know that." That was my last drunk. Or last attempted drunk.
Guitar.com: What happened next?
Vaughan: I went into Charter Peachford on the 13th, and got out a month later. They wanted to keep me longer, but the people I was working with understood the situation, and it wasn't like they gave me special treatment, but they made it real clear that I could use their help and from there on out I became good friends with my counselor. My bass player, [Tommy Shannon], went in when I did, too. Some of the crew came in to see me at the hospital and one of them was smashed when he got there. He left the hospital, and in a day or so he went in and got help. Other guys in the group followed. They all knew they couldn't do it anymore. It's all by the grace of God that we are alive.
Guitar.com: Did you play the guitar while you were in the hospital?
Vaughan: I did, but I have been playing a long time. It's not like riding a bicycle, but I was nervous. I didn't have my crutches, but at the same time there was a lot more to live for. I could relate to that. There was so much relief in giving up that fight that I knew I could never win. I knew I couldn't win it before I went down.
Guitar.com: It must have been a purification process.
Vaughan: It still is. I thought that since I was getting worse that the music must have been getting worse too, but there still a lot of things on those records that I like a lot. There were a lot of things deteriorating quickly, towards the end. Everywhere. But because of me hitting bottom and bouncing until I skidded to a halt it is a whole new world now. A lot of the songs on the record are about [having] a new reason to play, a reason to play from here, from the heart.