Stevie Ray Vaughan: Lone Star Rising
In addition to stepping out more often as a frontman, Vaughan started to write his own songs. In 1978, he wrote a pair of similar blues shuffles, “I’m Cryin’ ” and “Pride and Joy,” which later became one of his signature tunes when he recorded it for his debut album. He also penned an instrumental song that later became known as “Rude Mood,” and used it to warm up the audience before the band’s singers joined him onstage. In July, he wrote “Love Struck Baby” for his new girlfriend, Lenora “Lenny” Bailey.
Several members of the Triple Threat Revue had left or changed, so Vaughan now named the band Double Trouble, after an Otis Rush song. Lou Ann Barton still sang a few songs, and drummer Chris Layton joined the band in September. Johnny Reno, who played sax with Double Trouble, says, “The summer of ’78 he became the Stevie Vaughan that everybody really dug. Before that he was known as a sideman. That summer he really [developed] his artistry. He would play ‘Little Wing’ at three o’clock in the morning at the Rome Inn and stretch it out for an hour with just him, a bass player and a drummer. That’s where Stevie wanted to go, and that’s where people in the music business wanted him to go. They weren’t interested in a band with a chick singer and a sax player doing Fifties R&B covers from Chicago. All of a sudden Stevie became a rock guitar player.”
Reno was first to see the writing on the wall, and he quit Double Trouble in the summer of 1979. Barton wasn’t supportive of the Jimi Hendrix songs that Vaughan wanted to perform, so she left a few months later in November while the band was on tour on the East Coast. “When Lou Ann left the band, we became a power trio,” Layton says. “There was only one direction to go, and a whole different style of music grew out of that. We started doing some Hendrix-type stuff, and his guitar playing got a lot more wild. He started playing behind his head, between his legs and behind his back—a lot more stage antics.
RESURRECTING THE BLUES
Double Trouble hooked up with manager Chesley Millikin in 1980, which was a crucial step toward making the band a national phenomenon. Millikin was previously the general manager of Epic Records in London, England, and he had worked with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Jackson Browne. Millikin knew that Vaughan was a star, so he tried to convince Double Trouble to use just Stevie’s name, thinking he could easily replace the other members if the need arose. The band resisted, and as a compromise all parties agreed to call the band Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.
Like so many who came before him, Millikin was not convinced that a viable market existed for the blues, so he refused to promote Vaughan as a bluesman. He turned down an offer from Takoma Records, a folk-oriented label that had recently signed Jimmie’s band the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and waited for bigger offers to come along.
Bassist Tommy Shannon recalls seeing a Double Trouble show at Rockefeller’s in Houston in October 1980. Blown away by Vaughan’s stage presence and playing, he became determined to join the band. “That was where I wanted to be,” Shannon admits. “That’s where I belonged. During the break, I went up to Stevie and told him that. I didn’t try to sneak around and hide it from the bass player. I really wanted to be in that band.” Shannon’s wish was fulfilled a few months later, in January 1981, when he joined Vaughan and Layton as Double Trouble’s new bassist.
Eric Johnson says that all of the elements for Vaughan’s inevitable success were finally in place. “When Stevie got together with Tommy Shannon, it was like magic unleashed. The three of them had a chemistry that completely shifted the band’s direction. The potential was there before, but it was like all the fire was contained. With Tommy in the band, you could tell that something really heavy and profound was happening.”
One day in early 1982, Mick Jagger dropped by the horse-racing track Manor Downs to view some thoroughbreds. Millikin was also the general manager of the track, and he passed a videotape of one of Vaughan’s performances to his old friend. A few days later, Stones drummer Charlie Watts called Millikin and asked when he and Mick could see Vaughan play. Millikin hastily arranged a private showcase party in New York City at the Danceteria nightclub in April. Aside from members of the Rolling Stones, only a handful of people showed up, but a photograph and an article about the party appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. Rumors spread that Vaughan was going to sign a deal with Rolling Stones Records, but Jagger passed, saying as many others had that the blues just doesn’t sell.
Millikin persisted. He persuaded his old friend Claude Nobs to book Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble to perform at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. Nobs, who was the event’s producer, had never previously booked an unsigned act for the festival, but he trusted Millikin. On July 17, Vaughan and Double Trouble performed on the main festival stage. A handful of audience members in the front row booed, which greatly discouraged the band. After the set, they agreed to play an after-hours show in the artists’ lounge but canceled plans to play a second night.
Artists:Stevie Ray Vaughan
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