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Up Close and
"The Blues never has really died. You know, somebody always picks it up and runs with it. It's not necessarily on the radio sometimes, yet probably more now than it used to be."
"Then my dad got me an electric guitar for $50 from some people, and we were off to the races. I'd put the guitar down on the bed and I'd say, "Don't mess with my guitar, little brother," and then he would pick it up."
For Years, the Blues was steeped in names like Houndog Taylor, BB King, Muddy Waters, Nina Simone (Jazz/Blues), Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Albert King and many other previous legends of Blues. In the 60's when those legends were the backbone of Rock 'n Roll, two kids shared a room in their family home of Texas. The older one, Jimmie, had his vinyl collection and played guitar feverishly, trying to emulate those styles, yet throwing in a swampy twang. The result was a fierce sound. His little brother, Stevie, yearned to play guitar, clowning around on a toy guitar at a young age, trying to do as his older brother was able to. Their father knew. Somehow he saw it in them. He even drove Jimmie to gigs. The stage was being set.
At a time when eventually there would be the Almann Brothers and other Blues Rock bands ahead, this was out of the 60's groovy rebellious era. Blues was fading a bit, while 70's Classic Rock, Jimi Hendrix and other acts were surging to the forefront. If you wanted to hear Blues it was occasionally, unless you knew where to find it.
Blues needed another spark, and it was ignited with the Vaughan brothers. Jimmie moved out of his parents home, heading to Austin at a young age. He joined The Chessmen. Then he formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds, featuring Lou Ann Barton on lead vocal, harpist/vocalist Kim Wilson, bassist Keith Ferguson, and drummers Mike Buck and Fran Christina. His Blues guitar style stood out. At one of his gigs in Chicago, Muddy Waters showed up and stayed to listen to them play.
By the time Jimmie was doing well with hits like "Tough Enough," his little brother had now become a ferocious Blues guitarist on the scene. They took the sit down, grind of Blues, the swing or shuffle of it, and poured some hot Texas swamp feel to it. The result was big. So much so that, by the 80's, thru David Bowie recognizing this in Stevie Ray Vaughan, a new sound had entered the Blues. At around the same time, Jimmie's "Tough Enough" with the Fabulous Thunderbirds was a huge hit. People were drawn to this new style of Blues by the Texan brothers.
The band's first four albums, released between 1979 and 1983, are ranked among the most important recordings. Jimmie played lead guitar on fellow Texas blues musician Bill Carter's 1985 Stompin' Grounds. The Fabulous Thunderbirds got a new contract in 1986, and made several albums with a more commercially popular sound and production style. Jimmie left the band in 1990, and made his only "duo album," Family Style, with his younger brother. Before the album's release, Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash. The album was released a month after the crash. In 1994, Jimmie's song, "Six Strings Down,' paid tribute to Stevie.
Since 1997 Fender has produced a Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster. Jimmie won a Grammy Award for his Blues album,"Do You Get the Blues?" In 2001 his son, Tyrone Vaughan, influenced by his father and uncle, won "2001 GRAMMY® Award writer "Best Blues Album."
Jimmie has played with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, BB King, Hubert Sumlin, and others during the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. He has also performed guitar as a guest on an episode of the PBS cable television show Austin City Limits, with the Foo Fighters, which aired in 2015. His 2019 recording, "Baby, Please Come Home," was chosen as a 'Favorite Blues Album' by AllMusic. That same year, his son, Tyrone was inducted into the Texas Blues Hall of Fame.
Jimmie lives in the countryside, outside of Austin, Texas with his wife. He continues to write Blues music, and will begin recording once he is finished with his current tour, opening for Eric Clapton. Jimmie is an avid collector of classic and custom cars, and has had many of his cars displayed in museums, and featured in rodding and custom magazines.
Having sung the Blues tunes of BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Etta James, etc. - in awe of both of these brothers and their amazing stylings and sound-I was beyond grateful to have the chance to speak with Jimmie Vaughan on this day in particular:
AD: Today is my birthday, so interviewing you is a very big gift.
JV: Aw, well Happy Birthday!
AD: Thank you, I'm going to enjoy it. I wanna start out by asking you about your singing because on, "Baby Please Come Home" I love that sound. It is haunting and I want to say, it is a Vaughan sound (dogs begin to bark loudly now in the background at his home). I would know that Vaughan sound anywhere.
JV: Hold on a minute, Abbe. I have these big dogs and I'm gonna put them in the other room. (said from Jimmie in the distance, "I'll be right back!" then to the dogs, "Now come on!") Abbe, are you still there?
AD: I'm still here. This is kind of funny, cause I was worried that my dog would be the one in the background to bark at something outside. The dogs sound big, what kind of canines are they?
JV: They're Great Pyrenees, so they are big Sheep dogs. They are big, hairy, sweet dogs, but every once in a while you can't control them and they just do whatever they want.
AD: I hear ya, barking at things outside. Hey, while we are being casual, my friend used to tour with Debbie Davies, and I know she was so influenced by you and Stevie in her sound, do you remember her?
JV: Well, of course! Sure I do! Tell her I said hello.
AD: I sure will. I have to tell you now, in college I was so influenced by you and Stevie. I had a band and we played Blues around South Florida, and I used to sing Etta James tunes, and "Things That I Used to Do," and "Texas Flood," and "Lovestruck."
AD: So I don't care if your dogs bark, and wow, this is just great to talk with you!
JV: O-kay! (said with a kind tone, like 'let's get down to business') I put them outside so that should be over with for now. Thank you.
AD: So what I was saying, is that you and your brother have that Vaughan sound when you both sing. Have people told you that in your career?
JV: No, I don't know that people have said that, but it's nice to hear. When I first started playing I never sang when I was a kid, because I had all of these records by Muddy Waters and all these people. They had these great big, deep voices, and (he starts doing a Micky Mouse kind of voice and says) I had a little voice like this since I was 12! And then I was just the guitar player. Never really sang. And then when I decided to go out on my own, when we made Family Style, Nile said, "Stevie's gonna sing this, what are you gonna sing?" And I was like, "Uh, I don't sing, " and he said, "Well you're gonna sing now."
AD: Wow, I didn't know that's how it happened, I thought it was just your own idea to sing.
JV: Well, he told me that I had to sing, and then when I went solo I had to learn to sing anyway.
AD: Well I just love when you sing, "Baby Please Come Home." I could rewind and listen to that many times, it's just great.
JV: Thank you very much.
AD: I know you grew up listening to all of "The Kings" (Freddie, BB, Albert) yet who in your home had all of those Blues albums when you were growing up?
JV: Me. I was.
AD: It was you?! What age?
JV: When I started trying to play guitar, (a story he tells a lot about his friend who played football) a friend of mine said, "If you wanna have a girlfriend, you'd better learn to play guitar."
AD: Ah, right, that friend who played football and then they all tackled ya! Ha. But how old were you when you first began?
JV: I was about twelve. My uncles and my dad gave me a guitar that had 4 strings. It took a while to get a proper set of strings on there and do everything. But then, once I started playing, I've been playing ever since. I loved it, and it felt rebellious, and it was exciting, you know. I didn't wanna do what I was supposed to do at school, so it was all perfect. My uncles played guitar on both sides of the family. On my dad's side, there were a couple of guys that had a band, played bass and drums and sang. And on my mother's side, there were a couple of guitarists, and they liked Merle Travis and a couple of Country guys.
AD: Before the Fabulous Thunderbirds, what were some other bands you were with? I had the Chessmen and?.
JV: They were later. My first band was a trio called The Swinging Pendulums.
JV: My father got us a gig, so in the Summer, we played five or six nights a week in a Honky Tonk. The dads had to take us so we could get in.
AD: So how old were you then?
JV: We were thirteen, a couple of the guys were a year older than me.
AD: How did that go over? Were they receptive?
JV: Well it was a Honky Tonk called The Hob Nob Lounge, on Ross Avenue in Dallas, Texas.
AD: That is so cool that you were young, and you could play six nights a week. That's great!
JV: Yeah! It was a lot fun, and back in those days, they had a Go-Go dancer who was like 21.
AD: (laughing loudly) At your age?! OMG! (laughing some more)
JV: And so she was dancing with her outfit on, she had white cowboy boots with fringe and wore a bikini.
And she was right next to me, so I'm cuttin' up standing there. And back then, we sang thru the jukebox.
AD: (laughing a lot)
JV: On the back of the Sebring Jukebox there was a plug that said, "PA."
AD: Wow! And after that, how long before you were in the Fabulous Thunderbirds over at Anton's?
JV: That didn't happen until I moved to Austin at age 18. With the Chessmen, we used to play fraternity parties
all over the state. So by 18 I moved to Austin, and worked construction and did several things, and finally got a couple of bands going. Did you get the box set?
AD: No, I would love it, it looks like an amazing collection of your life.
JV: The reason I'm telling you about it, is there are three songs on there from my first Blues band in Austin. It's called The Storm. A guy named Louis Calgary, the singer and harmonica player. And Doyle Bramholl and Paul Ray on bass. We played around town at Honky Tonks here in Austin.
AD: I've heard some of The Storm. Yes, it's really good. Nice harmonica he did.
JV: There are the three cuts in the new set coming out.
AD: Can't wait to hear those. So then you played at Anton's, and that's pretty much where you took off?
JV: No, we played all over the place before then.
AD: What about when you opened up for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1969 in Ft Worth Texas?
JV: That was in Dallas when I was in with The Chessmen. I don't think it was '69. I think it was earlier than that when Hendrix started getting popular.
AD: I hear you lent him your wah wah pedal, right? And then he broke it? You wound up with his touring pedal, is that true?
JV: Well, that's not really the whole story. The true story is not as exciting as the rumor.
AD: (laughing) That's why I love talking to the actual person, because I don't wanna get caught up in what's not real, ya know?
JV: Well what really happened was it was a Saturday night, music stores were closed, they came to town, we were the opening act at the University, and their wah wah pedal was broken. So I had a brand new one and they said, "We'll give you $50 bucks for your wah wah pedal, and you can go get a new one next week." So that was what happened.
AD: OK, and then you ended up with his pedal?
JV: I have the old one, I still have it, but ya know what I mean, it's no good, it's a memento.
AD: Did you get up close to see him?
JV: You mean did I meet him?
JV: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were on the same show.
AD: What was he like?
JV: Well, first of all, he was way cool. You know, I was probably 15 and I couldn't believe that I was opening for Jimi Hendrix, so it was quite a thrill. You know, it was amazing, what can I say?
AD: When you watched his playing, what went on in your 15 year old head as you saw him play?
JV: Well I was already a big fan, and I had all of his records. He was way cooler than what I thought he would be like. It's hard to say. Here's a guy who can play anything he wanted to. He didn't care about the rules or anything, and he was just having fun. I mean, that was th way the whole band was.
AD: Yeah, and that's what makes the music come out.
AD: So when you came up through the Fabulous Thunderbirds from the 70's to the 80s, didn't they label you guys? Then, the commercialization of it. You guys go and shine the light back onto Blues in an innovative way.
JV: They didn't call it that, we were just a stomp down Blues band. That's what we did. We started the group, and played around a little bit. Then, a little while after that, I knew Clifford and he had a restaurant. So he said, "I'm gonna open a club and I am gonna have just Blues acts." That was kind of unique at the time. You know, you would have clubs in New York or East coast, that would have an occasional recording artist or a Blues guy, but it would be everything else, too. They would have whatever. So it was nice that he only had Blues or Jazz at his place.
AD: So people came to appreciate it because now it was only in one spot?
JV: Yeah, you know, it was really popular in Austin. It was pretty much a hit from the beginning, Anton's. Like he would hire Eddie Taylor for 10 days, and we would be the backup band for all of the people from Chicago and Mississippi. Whoever it was, we pretty much knew how it went, so we were the backup guys. If somebody came through and we didn't know their stuff, then we would just bone up to back them up.
AD: So when did you begin to write originals?
JV: It pretty much happened from the beginning. If you listen to our first album, there are several originals on there. We were playing Blues, like Lil Walter and Jimmie Reed, stuff like that. Even if we did a song that was original, it sounded like the other stuff. We really wanted to be and were a Blues band.
AD: You made such an impact when you wrote tunes that broke through in the 80's, I mean people went bananas for songs like, "Tough Enough" and it was like, "Here's the Blues again!" and BAM! Everyone went crazy for it. People who weren't in Chicago or Texas, they just loved the sound of your guitar, cause it was innovative. Blues is one thing, yet the guitar sound that you got and how you wrote the song, it caught on like wildfire.
JV: Well, thank you. You know, we were struggling a little bit, and we were in a van. We had a van we were making payments on and we'd go on the road. And we'd go to California, or New York, or South. We went to Europe a few times early on. So we were having a ball living the dream, doing what we wanted to.
AD: When I look back, and I've read interviews, yet I wanna know how you feel about it. Had it ever occurred to you, that your distinct style of playing guitar, in the beginning, and how you were passing that onto Stevie, who wanted to be like his big brother, is what created this rebirth of Blues music in the 80's? That sound carried through, thru the two of you.
JV: Well, I think we had a good hand in it. The Blues never has really died. You know somebody always picks it up and runs with it. It's not necessarily on the radio sometimes, probably more now than it used to be. We were young and we didn't care, and that was what we wanted to play. It felt anti, and all of that kind of thing.
AD: Well, there was a thrilling element with you and Stevie, too. Watching the two of you together in past videos is amazing. Playing the double neck Strat, do you ever look back and see how you two were really in synch? I wonder, when did you first decide to do that?
JV: Well see, when I was a kid and first started playin guitar, Stevie and I shared the same room, and I am four years older. So I started playing guitar, and I had a record player, Blues records, and the Best of Muddy Waters, and Folk Festival of Blues, with Buddy Guy, and Jimmy Reed, or ya had to know the latest Chuck Berry song. Then my dad got me an electric guitar for $50 from some people, and we were off to the races. And I'd put the guitar down and say "Don't mess with my guitar, little brother." and then he would pick it up.
AD: Whose idea was it to play on the double neck?
JV: Well we would do that on the same guitar at home. If somebody came over, my dad's friend would come over, and he'd say, "Boys go get your guitars and play your guitars for us."At first Stevie was so young, he just kinda had his little cowboy toy guitar, until he got his own guitar. Then I ran off when I was 15 to be in the Chessmen.
AD: Who wanted to do the double neck thing?
JV: We didn't have a double-neck then.
AD: So you decided later to do that on stage for fun? Was it easy for you to do that? Or were you used to it?
JV: Well haven't you seen two people play on the same guitar? You take the bottom and I'll take the top? (laughing)
AD: But the thing is, when I watch the two of you, it is like you are one body, I can't explain it, the chemistry is just great.
JV: Well I'm glad you like it, but we used to do that just for fun. Like, we used to play, one of the songs was," Red River Rock"
a teenage instrumental hit in the 60's. So we would do stuff like that on the guitar, he'd play the top and I'd play the bottom and whatever, we'd switch.
AD: It's good you got along enough to do that. I can't see my brothers getting along enough to do that, ha ha.
JV: Well it was a lot of fun, it had that feeling of being bad, you know what I mean.
AD: It sounds like your dad was really supportive.
JV: My dad was very supportive and he used to take me to the gigs in his pick up truck, load up all of our equipment, and he bought me my first guitar. I'll send you a photo, you've probably seen this.
AD: Please do!
JV: You've probably seen the photo.
AD: No, but thank you very much, I look forward to it. Did you have fun when you traveled together, you and Stevie, brothers and all?
JV: Well I mean, in the 80's we started to travel together, and played all over the country. After he first came out, ya know, he hit pretty good, and then The Thunderbirds were doing alright, too. We used to joke, whoever has the newest, hot record, will open for the other guy. Usually he won, because he really took off after the David Bowie thing and all that.
AD: Congratulations on your son winning the Texas Blues Hall of Fame award. So you feel the Blues is in good shape, huh?
JV: I just try to play what I like. So, I don't care what comes out or who writes what. I gotta do what I gotta do. To me, I love it. It's like drawing a picture. It's something that I wanna do, and I have to do it. So I'm gonna do it. (laughing)
AD: I love that about you and Stevie, it's like breathing when you play.
JV: It was also a way out. A way for me to be a teenager and split, and go do what I wanted to do, and get a car and drive away.
AD: If you had three more minutes with Stevie what do you think you would say or do?
JV: (gets quiet) I don't know, three minutes. What are you gonna say in three minutes? (pauses) I think I'd just say, "Where have ya been, how is it over there?"
Lemme explain what happened. He had a gig with Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton, and I flew up there to see him. He said,"Come up here, everybody's gonna come. We're all gonna play, you have to be here." And we all played the gig in Alpine Valley. And then, he came into the room, (this is before cell phones) So he said, "I've gotta go home and make a phone call." We were staying in Chicago, so it was all helicopters, and there were four or five helicopters that were flying everyone back and forth to Chicago. So he got on the helicopter and they flew right into the mountain.
AD: The pilot didn't know how to manage it?
JV: Who knows, he was a pilot. I think he did, but I don't know why it happened. So I don't know what I would say to him. I don't have any idea.
AD: Yeah, we never know what is on the other side, and that is what is also so hard.
JV: Well, it's been thirty one years. That's a long time. I'm 70, so time flies.
AD: The bond you guys had, and the music you brought is, well wow. So now, let's pretend there is an Exodus, and you can only bring two of your Blues albums out of there, what definitively would those albums be?
JV: It would have to be a Jimmy Reed album, one of those RV albums, and I don't know what the other one would be (laughing)
AD: Do you have certain songs you always like to perform, or songs you love singing, like food for your soul?
JV: Well, I try to make them all like that, and I try not to do a song unless I feel that way about it. Some stick and really go well, and then some are a little bit more of a struggle. Ya have to play every day and do some gigs, get hot, and then things go along pretty good. But there's always that element of "I don't know what I'm doing."
AD: After all these years you still fill that way?!
JV: Absolutely, because it always changes, for lack of a better word, it's evolving somewhere.
AD: What are you working on now?
JV: Well, I'm writing new songs for a new album.
AD: That's great. I hear for you, COVID has been that you are spending time with the grandkids, and horses and animals, near your home.
JV: Well, my wife has horses, she rides a lot, and we live out in the country. We have some horses, some rescues, and we have some livestock.
AD: Is your collection of cars out there, too?
JV: Well, I have a garage where I keep all of my cars.
AD: So, alright I'm not letting you out of this, ha, if you were driving out of that Exodus, which car are you driving, which car?
JV: Well it's usually the one that you've been working on. I've been driving my wife's '55 Crown Victoria. That's the great thing about living out in the country. You're not in the bustling big city where you get twenty-five people, or some BMW up your butt.
AD: Right and the antique cars, you're not flying down the highway on them. You're taking care of them.
JV: Yeah, you're trying to. I mean, what a wonderful country we're living in. We have fabulous music, beautiful cars, and we can live in a pretend place like me, where I can just do what I want. Collect old cars, and then listen to music.
AD: When you traveled did you figure that out, how itwas different, and then like coming back to the US?
JV: I always had fun, we'd go to Europe, Japan and Australia. It's nice to be on tour with your band buddies, yet
it's always great to come home. I have children, and animals.
AD: I only know about Tyrone playing music out there.
JV: No, I have a daughter who's a little older than Tyrone, and then I have a set of twins that are 17 and they're musicians.
AD: Your daughter didn't wanna become a musician?
JV: Well, she likes music and she can dance, and can do all this stuff, she's very talented. But she wasn't a musician. She didn't want to.
AD: It's cool how you are like, "She can do what she wants."
JV: I don't care if my kids play music for a living.
AD: If they want to, what is your advice to them, what do you say?
JV: Well they graduated from High School, they are real smart, and I want them to do what makes them happy.
AD: That's good advice. Is it Sept 17 when The Jimmy Vaughan Story collection is coming out? And when would your original album come out?
JV: I have no idea. I have a tour coming up next month, and then I've got a tour later, then on the East coast Then I'll come back and try to get back to the studio.
AD: Are you coming to Fla?
JV: Yes, we are! (he then takes out his calendar and starts telling me his schedule, and what a cool guy) Sept. 26th.
AD: Oh wow, okay I wanna see you!
JV: What town are you in?
AD: Near Boynton Beach.
JV: Not far from Hollywood?
AD: Oh we are not far at all. Listen, I mean, the world knows your sound, and you and your brother kickied it into high gear, it has meant so much to Blues music. Thank you for that. So what else is going on?
JV: Thanks. I've got the collection coming out and it's about 100 tunes. Also, I wanna tell you, we have a movie coming out. It's about Stevie and our childhood so that should come out sometime while I'm on this tour I'm doing with Eric Clapton.
AD: I can't imagine how Eric Clapton feels, cause of what happened to Stevie. I mean, wasn't he gonna get on the helicopter?
JV: No, we all flew over there on helicopters, and when we flew back afterwards, they didn't tell us.
AD: All of the myths about his death, like 36 days before he turned 36, he had a dream and a premonition. Did he ever say that to you?
AD: I don't know why people come up with this stuff.
JV: 'Cause it's something to talk about. They like to think of a lotta weird shit, because they don't know anyone.
AD: (laughing) Oh man, they need to get cracking on other stuff that makes them feel good. I wanna thank you so much for this opportunity and this has been a great birthday gift!
JV: Well Happy Birthday!
AD: Well thank you for all of the music, and all of the inspiration, and that gritty sound. You and your brother, phenomenal,
all you've done with Blues music, this is an honor. I will never forget this.
JV: Well thank you so much, thank you for the opportunity.
Abbe Davis, Editor/ Musician
Abbe Davis is the lead singer and songwriter of Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy, and previously with Day of Colors nationally. She also co-hosts The Tru Rock Show. Abbe and her band are currently in the studio recording for an album release in 2022.