Stevie Ray Vaughan: Lone Star Rising
The band’s rhythm guitarist Patrick McGuire told Hopkins that Stevie played a perfect note-for-note version of “Jeff’s Boogie” at his audition: “We were all astounded at how well he played for his age. He played intricate songs like ‘Jeff’s Boogie,’ which were difficult even for guys quite a bit older. He was into the old blues artists. He practiced at least five hours a day and didn’t have much social life. All he did was play guitar. He lived, ate and breathed guitar. That was it.”
The Southern Distributor played covers of songs by the usual pop rock bands of the day—the Beatles, Doors, Cream and the Rolling Stones—but Stevie expressed a desire to add blues songs to the band’s repertoire. This was one of the first of numerous times in Vaughan’s career that he was told that he wouldn’t make any money playing the blues. Instead, he sought out satisfaction by going to clubs and sitting in with other bands. Bassist Tommy Shannon, who was playing with Johnny Winter at the time and later played bass in Double Trouble, recalls seeing Vaughan play for the first time when Stevie was sitting in with a band at the Fog club in Dallas. A short while afterward, Vaughan jammed with Winter at the Cellar. He made enough money playing with the Southern Distributor to afford his first Fender Stratocaster, a 1963 model with a maple neck.
Although Jimmie and Stevie’s paths rarely crossed in the early days, for about two months they played in the same band together when Stevie was recruited to play bass with Jimmie and Doyle Bramhall’s band, Texas Storm. That union was cut short when Jimmie and Doyle decided to move to Austin in May 1970. Stevie then auditioned on bass for the band Liberation, but as Hopkins notes, when the band’s guitarist Scott Phares heard Stevie play guitar during a break, he humbly decided to step aside to a role as the band’s bass player and let Stevie play guitar.
Liberation was a huge band that had a multi-piece horn section and up to 12 members. While Liberation’s main focus was playing covers of songs by bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, they also played songs by Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin as well as a variety of blues covers like “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Hideaway.”
Liberation drummer Mike Day recalls, “When we played blues, black people would come up to Stevie and say, ‘You’re black!’ I think that meant more to him than any of the accolades that anybody else showered on him.”
During the summer of 1970, while Liberation was playing at a club called Arthur’s located in Dallas’ Adolphus Hotel, a newly signed local band called ZZ Top dropped in and asked if they could play two sets for free. Recollections from the many witnesses vary, but everyone recalls that Vaughan and Billy Gibbons jammed together on a cover of a Nightcaps song (either “Wine, Wine, Wine” or “Thunderbird”).
“They tore the house down,” Phares told Hopkins. “It was one of those magical evenings. Stevie fit in like a glove on a hand. He had a real long guitar cord, and whenever he took off into a solo, he’d jump off the stage and go walk around. All the dancers would watch him play his ass off. He was quite a showman.”
Vaughan’s confidence as a player and performer began to grow. He started to dress like a rock star, wearing cowboy hats with long feather plumes, sequined jackets adorned with ostrich feathers, and sunglasses. When Vaughan got harassed and threatened by some of the more conservative members of Dallas society, he just became more determined and dressed even more outlandishly.
In the fall of 1970, he participated in his first studio recording session (his only previous recording was a live jam with the Marc Benno band in 1969). The project was a compilation album called A New Hi, which featured rock bands from numerous high schools around the Dallas area. Vaughan (whois credited on the album as Steve Vaughan) sat in with a band formed by his classmates at Justin F. Kimball high school called A Cast of Thousands to record two songs—“Red, White and Blue” and “I Heard a Voice Last Night.” (Streaming MP3 recordings of the songs can be heard at www.kimballclassof70.org/castofthousands.htm.) Vaughan’s tone and phrasing on both songs is reminiscent of Cream-era Clapton, and his performance reveals impressive maturity and skill.
Shortly after making the recording, Vaughan dropped out of high school, grew his hair long and started concentrating on a career as a professional musician. By 1971, he grew tired of playing pop hits, so he quit Liberation and formed the band Blackbird, which performed songs by more adventurous artists like the Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin and west coast blues legend Lowell Fulson. Vaughan started playing slide guitar and learned many of Duane Allman’s parts from Allman Brothers records.
Artists:Stevie Ray Vaughan
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