“It was like watching a Polaroid develop": An oral history of Stevie Ray Vaughan's earliest days on the road

Stevie standing on Number One. His abuse of the guitar made others cringe (Image credit: Danny Opperman)

In October 1979, Stevie Ray Vaughan met a person who’d change his fate. Edi Johnson was a bookkeeper at the Manor Downs horse track outside of Austin and, after getting to know Stevie for most of a year, she asked her boss, Frances Carr, if she might offer financial backing to the guitarist, whose talent and need for help were equally obvious. 

Carr was from a prominent South Texas family, not to mention a friend of the Grateful Dead. Sam Cutler, ex-Dead and Rolling Stones road manager, helped her open Manor Downs in 1975. Chesley Millikin, an Irishman who had been general manager of Epic Records in Europe and also was close to the Dead, was another friend and the track’s general manager. Carr and Millikin formed Classic Management specifically to manage Vaughan, starting in May 1980. Stevie finally had some outside support to help propel him beyond the club circuit.

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Alan Paul

Alan Paul is the author of three books, Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, One Way Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers Band – which were both New  York Times bestsellers – and Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, a memoir about raising a family in Beijing and forming a Chinese blues band that toured the nation. He’s been associated with Guitar World for 30 years, serving as Managing Editor from 1991-96. He plays in two bands: Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, with Guitar World’s Andy Aledort.