A Focused Stevie Ray Vaughan Comes Clean in 1988 Guitar World Interview
A big part of his remedy is hard work. For the past eighteen months, Stevie Ray has been touring relentlessly. Backed by Double Trouble (drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tommy Shannon and keyboardist Reese Wynans), he opened the first leg of Robert Plant's North American tour before flying to Europe to headline summer blues festivals in Italy, Germany, Belgium and Holland.
He's been so booked solid with one-nighters that he probably won't get into a studio to begin working on his next album until August, maybe as late as September. Meanwhile, touring remains good therapy. And now that he's in the peak of fit (He and the crew now work out with weights and play hoops on the road instead of working out with bottles of Jack Daniels and Old Crown), he's performing with a newfound vitality and boundless energy that just wasn't there before.
"I was running out of gas and there were no pumps inside," he explains. "It was getting to a point where ... you know, you can't give somebody a dollar if you ain't got one. You can try all you want, but if you're out of gas, you just cannot give anymore. This was around the time we were mixing the Live Alive album. It was a real crazy period for all of us, because for a long time we had a schedule that was just completely out of hand.
"And the only reason we put up with it was because we thought we were superhuman, partly from the situation we were in and partly from doing too much coke. I mean, the whole deal is when you walk onstage, you're up there bigger than life. People idolize you. And if you let that go to your head, then you're in trouble. You have to keep those things in perspective, but that's hard to do when you're high on cocaine and drink all the time."
He pauses, sighs a bit and continues. "We began to see that this schedule was taking its toll. During that period we were touring and making a record. My trick was not to sleep at all. I would stay in the studio all night long doing mixes of the live stuff and choosing tunes. I'd leave the studio about noon, go to the hotel to grab a shower, go to the sound check, play the gig, come back to the studio, stay there all night doing mixes, come back to the hotel the next noon, grab a shower, go to the sound check, play the gig, come back to the studio and the whole thing would start over again."
He shakes his head and mutters in disbelief, "For two weeks straight I did that. We had spread ourselves way too thin, tried to put our fingers in too many parts of the pie at the same time. It was taking its toll, and the only way we could see to deal with that was, 'Oh, you 're too tired? Well, here, snort some of this.'
And between the coke and the alcohol, it had gotten to the point where I no longer had any idea what it would take to get drunk. I passed the stage where I could drink whatever I wanted to and hold my liquor, so to speak. One day I could drink a quart and then the next day all I'd have to do was drink one Sip and I'd get completely smashed."
He doesn't remember exactly how much he drank the night he fell off the stage in London. Maybe two, three drinks. Maybe a quart. But it was painfully obvious at that point that something had gone dreadfully haywire with the reigning star of the rock and blues scene. John Hammond's promising protégé was drowning in a morass of self-destruction.
"I would wake up and guzzle something, just to get rid of the pain I was feeling. Whiskey, beer, vodka, whatever was by me. And it was getting to the point where I'd try to say 'hi' to somebody and I would just fall apart, crying and everything. It was like... solid doom. I had hit rock bottom and there really was nowhere to go but up. I had been trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps, so to speak, but they were broke, you know."
His mental, physical and spiritual decline was exacerbated by his bad habits, which included pouring cocaine into his drinks to keep the buzz on longer. "I had torn up my stomach real bad by doing that. I didn't realize that the cocaine would crystallize in my stomach and make cuts inside there. I was really messed up and finally I had a breakdown. I mean, everything fell apart. And I finally had to surrender to the fact that I didn't know how to go without the stuff. In my mind, I had envisioned myself just staying high for the rest of my life, you know? But I had to give up to win, 'cause I was in a losing battle."
Around September of 1986, he entered a clinic in London under the care and supervision of Dr. Victor Bloom. "He filled me in on the disease of alcoholism, and made me realize that this thing had been going on for a long time with me, long before I ever started playing professionally. Fact is, I had been drinking since 1960, when I was six years old.
"That's when I first started stealing Daddy's drinks. Or when my parents were gone, I'd find the bottle and make myself one. I thought it was cool ... thought the kids down the street would think it was cool. That's where it began, and I had been depending on it ever since.”
Stevie Ray readily admits that just before the breakdown, the constant intake and build-up of drugs and alcohol in his system ultimately wrought negative effects on his playing and the band 's overall performance.