Jimmie Vaughan: Powerful Stuff
GUITAR WORLD You started out as a young buck of the blues, learning from the masters. Now you are one of the real-deal oldschool cats. Was that a natural evolution or a freaky occurrence?
JIMMIE VAUGHAN It’s so scary that I can’t even think about it. [laughs] I’m just doing what I love, and in a lot of ways I feel like I just got here. When I was a kid I said, “I want to be a blues guitarist when I grow up.” It was a total fantasy, and I’m still trying to do that.
GW So you don’t feel like you’ve nailed that down yet?
VAUGHAN You can’t ever quite be satisfied with something like that. I was always fascinated listening to guys like Albert Collins, Freddie King and B.B. King and thinking, How in the world do they know what they are going to play? I’ve been on a lifelong quest to figure that out, and all I can say to this day is that it’s all about feeling.
As a soloist, it all comes down to, “When they open that gate, what are you going to say?” After all these years, I still don’t always know the answer, and that gives me the feeling that it all could blow up anytime I’m onstage.
GW Come on, that’s not true.
VAUGHAN [laughs] I’m just telling you how it feels. Every time I go out there, I get excited and my hackles go up, and I jump out and it’s fun. I still love getting myself in the right frame of mind to go play, and I still love the sense of not knowing what’s going to happen. Every night is different. You can do all the right things all day and have a scary show, or you can stumble in, doing all the wrong things, and have a great gig. There’s no guarantee. And you’re on your own up there. It’s just a great, fun thing to do.
GW So it still feels exciting?
VAUGHAN Always! I play all day, every day. I just never stop playing, because that’s what I love to do. Basically, I’m living the dream, so I have nothing to complain about. Not only do I get to play music all the time but I also get to do it just the way I want. I like the niche I’ve found, and I’m just trying to play what I hear in my head, not be the most amazing guitarist in the world. For me, music is all about the space, the phrasing and how everything flows. I like stuff that feels like someone is talking to me, and that’s what I try to do—just express myself with phrasing and emotion.
GW What have you learned after so many years of studying the blues greats?
VAUGHAN When it’s time to solo, they hit it hard. They come out of the chute and play something so great that they could stop after a few notes and it would be the coolest thing you’ve ever heard. And they got that from the sax players I love, like Gene Ammons. The whole Texas single-note guitar school, starting with T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown, which I am part of, was inspired by sax lines and the way that amplifiers first allowed guitars to come out of the rhythm section.
The best way I can think about it is, it’s like talking; you want to hear someone tell a really good story in his own voice. You can’t figure it out like a math problem, because you have to call on your feelings. It’s really hard to talk about an approach to soloing in a way that makes sense. It’s not like I intellectualize it. I’ve talked it about more right now than I have consciously thought about it in the last three or four years. Because for me it’s very physical and emotional.
GW It’s been 20 years since Stevie’s death. Has your view of his musical legacy changed?
VAUGHAN Well, no. I’m always amazed about the stories I hear from people all over the world, about the reach he had and the impact his music had on people’s lives. I’m happy and proud about that, but it’s hard for me to put his legacy in any kind of perspective.
I started playing before he did. I showed him how to play, and then he went off and did his thing, and…well, I’m still here. So I don’t think about his playing; I think about mine. He was my little brother. It’s hard to separate that fact from talking about his “legacy” or to even to separate him from me. Do you understand? You’re asking about his playing, his music, his legacy, but he’s my brother.
I know that he has a huge following and his music still impacts people. When he was here, it was incredible, but I was here too, and… [pauses]