Stevie Ray Vaughan: Weather Report
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2010
With a deluxe reissue of Couldn’t Stand the Weather in the forecast, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bandmates recall the making of a modern blues rock classic.
In March 15, 1984, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble took the stage in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a special show. Their audience consisted solely of CBS Records employees, including the publicity, radio promotion and sales reps at the Epic label, who were preparing to work the band’s just-completed second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather. The performance was meant to be the highlight of CBS’ annual convention for its music division. To Stevie Ray and his bandmates, the very fact that they were in Hawaii felt like a vote of confidence at a critical time in their career.
“CBS had lots of acts,” Double Trouble’s drummer Chris Layton says today, “and they could have flown any of them out to Hawaii, but they picked us. When we first heard that we were going to the convention, we thought, Great, this means they’re serious about us.” In an era when synth-pop dominated the musical landscape, Vaughan’s corporate backers were betting that what the world really needed was some white-hot blues guitar.
Vaughan and company responded to the honor with a spirited set, interspersing impressive new compositions like “Scuttle Buttin’,” “Stang’s Swang” and “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” with favorites from Texas Flood, their debut album, released the previous year. The show reached its pinnacle with a blistering take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Outfitted in a light-blue kimono and his customary black bolero hat, Vaughan made his favorite “Number One” Strat howl with a bottomless passion that simultaneously evoked Hendrix and confirmed Vaughan as a master in his own right. (The concert was recorded and will soon be available for the first time as part of Sony Legacy’s upcoming deluxe reissue of Couldn’t Stand the Weather.)
The record company employees applauded and cheered. The bet they’d made about Vaughan’s continued commercial potential would pay off soon enough: Couldn’t Stand the Weather sold 250,000 copies in its first 21 days of release. It eventually reached Number 31 on the Billboard album chart and achieved double-Platinum sales. Undoubtedly, SRV’s appearance at the convention helped light a fire under the Epic team, but it didn’t hurt that the record was a winner.
Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon doesn’t remember much about the Honolulu performance itself, but he says of the trip overall, “We had a lot of fun.” Layton adds a few more specifics: “It was a world party. Unlike most gigs, we got to hang out there for three days and meet people. It was sunburns, margaritas, Mai Tais, piña coladas and cigars. I never saw anybody without a drink in their hand.”
Before long, the band’s hard-partying style would cause serious problems, but as the winter of 1984 turned to spring, everything was still—just barely—under control. The Texas trio could revel in its good fortune and in the successful completion of an album that many still regard as the group’s finest.
The recording sessions for Couldn’t Stand the Weather were a drastically different experience from the three-day weekend at Jackson Browne’s L.A. studio that had produced Texas Flood. As Shannon told Guitar World in February 2004, the latter album “wasn’t even meant to be a record”—it had been intended purely as a demo to shop around to labels—while its follow-up “was all about being a record, ceremoniously.”
By the end of 1983, Texas Flood had gone Gold, selling more than 500,000 copies in the U.S. Having already proved their worth to CBS, Vaughan and his bandmates were now in a position to raise the bar. The new album would be recorded over six weeks at the famed Record Plant studios in New York, and the man behind the glass in the control room would be none other than John Hammond, the legendary A&R man who had discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and who had been instrumental in signing Vaughan to Epic.
However, before Stevie, Tommy and Chris could make the trip to New York, they had to figure out what they were going to record there. They’d been on the road nonstop since Texas Flood’s release and they had no new material prepared. So Vaughan booked a three-week stint at an Austin rehearsal hall for preproduction work. It was rough going at times, because the band wasn’t entirely sure of what musical direction to pursue. According to engineer Richard Mullen, Vaughan’s longtime sonic right-hand man, “There were probably 5,000 different song lists. The joke of the sessions was that every time Stevie went off to do a line [of cocaine], he’d come back with a different list.”