A Focused Stevie Ray Vaughan Comes Clean in 1988 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Stevie Ray Vaughan from the September 1988 issue of Guitar World, which was a special "Blues Power!" issue. The story, which started on page 50, ran with the headline, "Stevie Comes Clean: The new, improved Stevie Ray Vaughan is stone-free … and drug and alcohol-free, too. Now, he can play the blues."
Stevie Ray strides into the room, looking sharp, as usual.
He’s sporting his signature snakeskin boots, a grey Late Night With David Letterman T-shirt tucked into his blue jeans and a cool black denim jacket over that with the face of Dr. Martin Luther King boldly emblazoned across the back.
And though the apparel hasn’t changed that much –- the same flamboyant Texan bohemian fashions he flaunted some five years ago when we first met -– there’s still a new look to the man, a new vibe.
Gone are the bleary eyes and telltale stagger. Gone is the booze and coke haze that hung over the band and crew like a heavy shroud. A new spirit of positiveness permeates the entire entourage, right down to the roadies, soundmen and lighting crew. Like Stevie Ray, they’ve all come clean.
Two years ago, he’d more than likely be waving a bottle of Old Crown whiskey in your face as he answered your questions. When I first interviewed him for Guitar World, Stevie Ray seemed shy, inarticulate, guarded … maybe even a little frightened. He gave one-, two-word answers and rarely offered eye contact.
But on this bright day in Orlando, Florida, a few hours before his show at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, just across the road from the Omni Hotel where he and the crew are staying, Stevie Ray is a different man. He speaks with a kind of urgency and conviction that was lacking in his repartee the last time we spoke. And when he makes a point, he stares you down with an intense gaze, just to make sure you’re copping his drift.
He seems focused, physically together and spiritually anchored. He's learned about things like humility, commitment, responsibility. He's got a new lease on life, and he's glad to be sharing the lessons learned on the road back to sobriety. In concert now, during the anthemic ballad "Life Without You" (a soulful "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay"-type set-closer), he warns his young audiences about getting caught up in bad habits and making the kinds of mistakes with their lives that he made.
On the 1986 Grammy-nominated Live Alive album, he used this same song to lecture about the evils of apartheid in South Africa. Now, after having fallen off stages, succumbing to a total physical collapse and finally entering a treatment facility in Georgia back in October of 1986, he uses "Life Without You" as a moving, musical backdrop to his current crusade against the evils of drugs and alcohol.
The fervor of his rap gives Stevie Ray the aura of an evangelist preacher working the crowd. And this is no hollow pitch; he means every word he says, from the bottom of his heart. He had hit rock bottom and is now rededicating his life to his music, his friends, to appreciating each new day as it comes. Every day that passes without a drink or a snort is another victory for Stevie Ray Vaughan. So far, he's winning big.
"I can honestly say that I'm really glad to be alive today," he begins, with that dead-serious gaze, "because left to my own devices, I had too many vices and I would've slowly killed myself."
He takes a sip of coffee and continues in a contemplative mode, ''I'm just doing the best I can now to keep this going … trying to grow up and remain young at the same time. I got a lot of paradoxes in my life. I guess I'm a real confused person, but there are some focused parts to my life now, and I'm slowly trying to put all the pieces back together."