A Focused Stevie Ray Vaughan Comes Clean in 1988 Guitar World Interview
When we interviewed Stevie Ray Vaughan for the September 1988 issue of Guitar World, SRV was drug- and alcohol-free -- totally ready to play the blues.
There's been no rehearsal and Otis barely had time for a soundcheck. He had literally just stepped off a plane in Fort Lauderdale and was quickly taxied to the gig, and he's not used to these big rock concert amps. He's playing through a Marshall stack and his semi-hollow Gibson feeds back something awful through the first couple of songs, until the soundmen finally zero in on the proper EQ adjustments.
They jump into a mid-tempo shuffle. Otis is warming up now and the crowd is clearly warming up to him. By the time he lays into "Stormy Monday" with that soulful holler and singing guitar voice of his, he has this auditorium of young blues fans in the palm of his hand.
Many in the crowd probably never heard of him before, but after a blazing rendition of "Got My Mojo Working," they're well-acquainted with the man. Some will no doubt head to their local record stores the next day and peruse the blues bins looking for Otis Rush albums. And for that, Stevie Ray Vaughan deserves credit.
Sure, he's riding high as the most popular, most widely exposed blues celebrity these days; his drawing power at the box office is even greater than that of B.B. King. But Stevie Ray reveres his blues fathers -- B.B., Albert and Earl King, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers -- the list goes on and on.
And whenever possible, he goes out of his way to pay back some of what he got from them. We're seeing that in action this night at the Sunrise Music Theater as the crowd whoops and hollers for the mild-mannered bluesman from Chicago's North Side, Mr. Otis Rush himself.
On the Riverboat President, which floats down the Mississippi River as part of the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, he brings out special guest Albert Collins, and the two exchange licks well into the night. At the Chicago Blues Festival a couple years back, he mixed it up on stage with Buddy Guy, and down around his home stomping grounds, the Austin-Dallas-Fort Worth network, he regularly goes toe-to-toe with the local celebrity six-stringers. Yeah, he's giving it back, all right.
"Those guys are the ones who really ought to have the recognition," he maintains. "They're the pioneers and the innovators and they deserve respect for that. Listening to all the great records by Albert King and Albert Collins, Otis Rush... B.B. King's Live At The Regal, which is one of the most amazing records I've ever heard ... there's millions of records we could talk about and each one of them is unbelievable in its own right. They're like books, in a sense. You can reread them and gain a new insight each time. They never sound the same, to me anyway there's always something new to learn in each one. So these great bluesmen, they've all been like my teachers.
"And I'm really just another Texas blues guitarist, but I think I've got something special to say with my music. But I have to keep these things in perspective, because they're gifts. It's all a gift, and I have to give it back all the time or it goes away If I start believing that it's all my doing, it's gonna be my undoing. And I'm committing myself to doing the most I can with the gifts I have, so that they do as many people good as possible."
Stevie Ray's stopped running from himself. He's learned about the power of love and the joy of living. He's been through some rough times and now he's all the stronger for it- physically, mentally, spiritually and musically. You can hear it in his voice when he sings. You can detect the new vitality when he solos. There's an urgency there, a sense of conviction and personal statement. All the crutches have been removed and he's standing up like a man on his own two feet. It's the new and improved Stevie Ray Vaughan. He's paid his dues and now he's really got a right to sing the blues.
''And now I realize that I'm responsible to stay sober and to reach out to anybody who's got a problem with it. If I'm in a position to give any kind of help to them and I don't, then what have I done? Hell, if it hadn't been for people reaching out to me, I may not have made it.”
He pauses, puts down his last cup of coffee and points to a small white pin on his lapel that bears the familiar frizzy-haired visage of Jimi Hendrix.
"You know," he begins in an urgent tone, "there's a big lie in this business. The lie is that it 's okay to go out in flames. But that really doesn't do anybody much good. I may be wrong, but I think Hendrix was trying to come around. I think he had gotten a glimpse of what he needed to change and that he really wanted to change. And I found myself in a similar position.
He lets out a long sigh, his voice dropping to a solemn whisper as he adds, "Some of us can be examples about going ahead and growing. And some of us, unfortunately, don't make it there and end up being examples because they had to die. I hit rock-bottom, but thank God my bottom wasn't death."
Amen. And now that he sees clearly, the man is back with a vengeance.
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