Stevie Ray Vaughan: Weather Report
Among the pieces that Vaughan and the band finalized during this time were “Scuttle Buttin’,” “Stang’s Swang,” “Honey Bee” and “Couldn’t Stand the Weather,” songs that moved the band well past basic blues into jazz, soul and rock. The now-classic unison bass/guitar riff that opens “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” was originally Shannon’s idea, but he later explained that his version of the riff “was phrased differently. I had the first note falling on ‘two’ instead of ‘one’—it was more like a horn line—and Stevie suggested changing that first note to the ‘one.’ ” As for the astonishing instrumental “Scuttle Buttin’,” it was a tribute to the roughhewn style of pioneering blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack, closely based on the tune of Mack’s “Chicken Feed.”
One more important decision was made while in Austin: the band members agreed that when they got to New York, they would commit their version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” to tape. They’d been playing it live regularly, but Vaughan had been reluctant to record it. “I really had to talk Stevie into doing that track,” Shannon says, “because he was afraid of what the ‘blues purists’ might have to say about it. I said, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with stepping over the line.’ ” Vaughan’s willingness to consider recording a straight-out rock song was a clear sign that Couldn’t Stand the Weather would not be a repeat of Texas Flood, and the decision to cut it was an important one for the group.
“That track was responsible for bridging the gap between blues and a totally new kind of music,” Layton says. “For us, it was like we were breaking out of jail. ‘Voodoo Child’ turned out to be our point of departure into the future.”
In the new year, the action shifted to New York. Stevie, Tommy and Chris checked into the Mayflower Hotel on Central Park West and proceeded to live it up just about every waking second that they weren’t playing. They quickly developed tight relationships with several local drug dealers. “We were high on how cool it was to be recording in New York with the record company’s blessing,” Layton remembered later. “But we were real high, too. There were two distinctly different highs going on.”
At the Record Plant, the music poured out with ease. Toward the start of the first day of recording, Richard Mullen asked the trio to play something so he could tweak the instrument sounds. With hardly a word, they struck up a version of Bob Geddins’ slow blues “Tin Pan Alley.” As he did for most of the sessions, Vaughan stood near Layton’s drums and played without headphones, focusing on the band’s live sound. (The lack of headphones also freed him to move about the studio the same way he did onstage. “He’d dance around, slidin’ across the room on his toes, stuff like that,” Mullen recalled.)
Vaughan’s solo on “Tin Pan Alley” was cool on top but simmering with emotion underneath, punctuated by cleanly picked bursts of notes that rippled across Shannon and Layton’s groove like waves in a pool of wind-blown water. When the song was finished, John Hammond spoke from the control room through the talkback mic. “You’ll never get it better than that,” he said. His statement turned out to be correct; the very first take of the very first song played at the sessions ended up going on the album.
Working in the studio with Hammond was a treat, but it wasn’t quite what the band had expected. “He’d come in every day with the New York Times, and he’d just sit there and read the paper while we were playing,” Shannon recalls. “We started thinking, What’s he doing in there? Is he even listening? But then at the end of the song he’d go, ‘We should try that again,’ or ‘Let’s move on, that’s good.’ And he was always right.”
Behind his newspaper, Hammond was also paying attention to the band’s rampant cocaine use, which they did a poor job of hiding. One day, he announced out of the blue that Gene Krupa had been his favorite drummer to record back in the swing heyday of the Thirties, but that Krupa’s timing deteriorated whenever he smoked pot. “Ever since then,” Hammond concluded, “I don’t allow drugs in my sessions.” From that point on, Layton said, “We got the message, even though all we did was try to hide it from him a little better.”
Vaughan had less consideration for other representatives of the label. “The A&R and marketing people wanted to come in for a listening party midstream and evaluate the recording,” Layton told Guitar World in February 2004. “Stevie said to them, ‘You think we did pretty good on the first one, don’t you?’ And they said, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful.’ So he said, ‘Then we don’t need your help on the second one.’ ”
One Epic employee didn’t get the hint. He snuck into the studio one night after the band had departed, and left with an early version of “Look at Little Sister” in rough-mix form. The next day, Layton reported, “Stevie called him up and ripped him a new asshole: ‘Don’t you ever fuckin’ come in and take my music. I don’t give a fuck if you’re with the record company!’ ” Vaughan pointedly left “Look at Little Sister” off the final album. It finally turned up on 1985’s Soul to Soul in a re-recorded version.
Artists:Stevie Ray Vaughan
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