Stevie Ray Vaughan: Lone Star Rising
Over the next two years, Jimmie started playing gigs professionally and joined bands featuring players much older than him. Stevie struggled to keep up, learning how to play current rock and roll hits such as the Animals’ version of “House of the Rising Sun,” “Gloria” by Them and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers. In 1966, singer and drummer Doyle Bramhall hired Jimmie to play with his band, the Chessmen. This was the beginning of a long musical relationship between Bramhall and the Vaughan brothers.
Bramhall recalled for Hopkins the first time he met Stevie and heard him play, “I was sitting in [the Vaughans’] living room waiting for Jimmie. When Jimmie walked from the back bedroom to the kitchen I heard this guitar playing coming from the other direction. I walked down the hall, and a bedroom door was a little ajar. I looked in, and there was this little skinny 12-year-old kid sitting on the bed playing the Yardbirds’ ‘Jeff ’s Boogie.’ As soon as he saw me, he stopped playing, and I said, ‘Don’t stop.’ Stevie always made it look easy. Even at the age of 12, he definitely had a feel for the guitar.”
During the summer of 1967, while Stevie was only 13, three events transpired that would have a huge impact on his future. The first occurred while he was rummaging through the trash bins behind the Dallas TV studio where a local live teen dance program called Sump’n Else was filmed. Among the garbage, he found a 45-rpm record of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” a song that woke him up to a wild new style of guitar playing. The second took place while he was working as a dishwasher at a burger stand. He fell into a 55-gallon barrel of grease, a humiliation that made him determined to make a living playing with his guitar. The third incident happened when Jimmie moved out of his parents’ house and got his own apartment, leaving behind a 1951 Fender Broadcaster that Stevie began to play. Finally, Stevie had a guitar with which he could produce the sounds of his favorite rock and blues players.
Shortly afterward, Stevie joined his first real band, the Brooklyn Underground, which played at local “sock hops,” high school dances held in the school’s cafeteria or gym. In Hopkins’ book, guitarist and bandmate Paul Kessler recalls, “The main reason we got Stevie in the band was because we considered Jimmie the best guitar player in Dallas. We thought maybe some of that [luck] might rub off on us. I remember that Are You Experienced had just come out, and Stevie jumped on that stuff pretty quick. His influences at the time were his brother, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and we played songs by the Beatles, Kinks and Yardbirds.”
Randy Martin, who played bass in the Brooklyn Underground, told Hopkins, “[Stevie] loved Hendrix. When he’d start playing a lead in a song, people would turn around and gravitate toward the stage to see this little kid play guitar. He wasn’t refined back then. He had nervous energy and didn’t know how to put it all together, but it was incredible to see a little kid play guitar like that. He had a gift.”
About a year later, Stevie got to witness his two biggest influences playing a gig together when his brother’s band, the Chessmen, opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas on February 16, 1968. Stevie became more determined than ever to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but his overprotective father, who wasn’t thrilled about Stevie’s musical aspirations at such a young age, refused to let him play in establishments where liquor was served and put Stevie’s plans on hold.
Although there wasn’t any blues scene to speak of in Dallas during the late Sixties, many blues legends frequently passed through town to play gigs. In 1969, Stevie, then 14, started hanging out at R&B and soul clubs where touring blues acts frequently played, and occasionally he talked the club owners into letting him sit in with the bands. “I used to ride a cab down to Hall Street in Dallas,” Vaughan told Andy Aledort for an interview published in the December 1990 issue of Guitar for the Practicing Musician. “I’d sneak in the clubs to see T-Bone Walker and Freddie King. It was around the same time that Eric Clapton was [playing blues], and it was like, ‘Oh, it’s okay for me to do this. Somebody else is doing it who’s not black.’ ”
When his bandmates in the Brooklyn Underground became frustrated with having to hire a backup guitarist whenever they played shows at establishments that served alcohol, Stevie and the band parted ways. He went on to join the Southern Distributor, which was focused on creating big productions rather than playing casual club gigs. The band’s business card boasted “solid sound” and a “psychedelic light show,” and described the music with a de rigueur Sixties hippie-dippie phrase: “pseudopsychosonicoptic.”
Artists:Stevie Ray Vaughan
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