Stevie Ray Vaughan: Lone Star Rising
The Nightcrawlers’ deal with Bill Ham fell apart, and Ham left the band stranded in Mississippi without any means or funds to make it back home. Ham also demanded reimbursement from Vaughan for all the equipment that Ham had bought for him. Despite being essentially broke, Vaughan later managed to gather enough money to buy the battered 1962 Stratocaster that became known as “Number One” from Ray Hennig at Heart of Texas Music in Austin.
“When he came in, like every other day, we had a long row of guitars,” Hennig told Hopkins. “And he wouldn’t take them off the hook. He’d simply walk down and feel them and look at them and move on to the next one. He stood there and looked at that old thing, and I thought, Oh no. Then he reached down and felt of it, just like he did always. And then he took it off the hook, hitting some licks on it. He said, ‘Ray, where’d you get this?’ I said, ‘Stevie, you have got to have picked the biggest junker on the wall.’ ”
Apparently, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Previously, the Strat had belonged to Austin musician Christopher Cross, who later became known for the adult-contemporary hits “Sailing” and “Ride Like the Wind.” Even with the years of abuse that Vaughan added to the guitar, its value today should it ever be sold auction is estimated at well in excess of a million dollars.
FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN
In 1975, Vaughan joined a six-piece band called Paul Ray and the Cobras. The band played gigs all over Texas and earned a regular stint at a newly opened Austin club called Antone’s, where Jimmie Vaughan’s new group, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, was also the house band. “I was able to play with so many of my idols at Antone’s,” Vaughan told Request magazine. “Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, B.B. King, Jimmy Rogers, Lightnin’ Hopkins and—the biggest thrill for me—Muddy Waters. Howlin’ Wolf was scheduled to play at Antone’s, but he died a week before. That broke my heart.”
Eric Johnson, another Austin legend, recalls seeing Vaughan perform for the first time when Vaughan was a member of Paul Ray and the Cobras. Johnson and Vaughan became friends (their girlfriends at the time were best friends), but Vaughan initially turned down offers to see Johnson’s band, the Electromagnets, because Vaughan wasn’t into the fusion-style jazz that they played. When he was finally convinced to see them perform, he became a big fan of Johnson’s playing, and they started to jam together occasionally.
“Watching Stevie and Eric play together was something else,” says Joe Sublett, who played saxophone with the Cobras. “[When they played] they both moved toward a common ground, which was that Jeff Beck/Eric Clapton sort of vocabulary that they both had in common. Eric played less like a fusion guy and more like Jeff Beck, and Stevie played more like Jeff Beck–meets–Eric Clapton. It was something I hadn’t heard either one of them do before.”
In late 1976, Vaughan recorded the single “Other Days”/“Texas Clover” with Paul Ray and the Cobras. The reggae-flavored “Texas Clover” featured a relatively subdued performance by Vaughan that provided few hints of his powerhouse style, but his solo on the funky soul tune “Other Days” revealed much of that distinctive personality that later made him a star. The single’s credits list him as “Stevie Vaughan”—he was not using his middle as part of his stage name yet. The single came out in February of 1977, and in March, Paul Ray and the Cobras were named Band of the Year in the Austin Sun’s readers’ poll. The accompanying article was the first instance where Vaughan was identified as “Stevie Ray Vaughan.” Photos taken around this time also reveal that Vaughan had added his iconic “SRV” stickers to his Number One Strat sometime in 1977.
While Vaughan had spent much of his playing career up until this period backing up other musicians, he finally started to assert himself as a star in his own right around this time. With the Cobras he had become confident enough in his own vocal abilities to sing lead on a few songs, and he briefly took over frontman duties when Paul Ray had to take temporary leave due to a throat problem. When the Cobras decided to pursue a more mainstream direction, Vaughan left in August of 1977 to form the Triple Threat Revue with singer Lou Ann Barton and blues guitarist/singer W.C. Clark.
The all-star Triple Threat Revue became a popular draw in Austin. Billy Gibbons often dropped in to see the band play its regular Monday night shows at the Rome Inn, which became the inspiration for the song “Lowdown in the Street” on ZZ Top’s Deguello album. Vaughan’s main guitar during this time was a late-Fifties Rickenbacker Model 360 semihollow guitar, although he broke out Number One to perform a handful of instrumentals, like “Texas Flood.”
Austin guitar dealer Tony Dukes told Hopkins about Gibbons’ reaction when he saw Vaughan playing a Rickenbacker: “Billy wanted to see it, so he walked up [to the stage] and turned around with this horrible expression on his face. The strings were so high and so big he couldn’t make a note on it. He was amazed that Stevie could play it.”
Artists:Stevie Ray Vaughan
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