The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan
By Alan Paul and Andy Aledort
The first time that Buddy Guy, quite possibly the greatest living blues guitarist, heard Stevie Ray Vaughan play, he couldn’t believe it. “He was hitting them notes and made me feel like I should go in the audience and watch so I could learn something,” says Guy in Alan Paul and Andy Aledort’s illuminating oral history, “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
Lots of people felt the same way. During his brief, blazing time in the spotlight — just seven years passed between the acclaimed debut album that gives this book its title and the 1990 helicopter crash that killed him at age 35 — Vaughan seemed to represent the culmination of the guitar hero era, absorbing the influences of masters from B.B. King to Lonnie Mack to (especially) Jimi Hendrix and spinning them into endlessly inventive, laser-sharp fretwork. “Stevie had the intensity of rock with the deep feeling of the blues,” says Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule. “That was a lethal combination.”
But as Paul (who wrote 2014’s authoritative Allman Brothers oral history “One Way Out”) and Aledort document, that majestic command resulted from a dedication to his instrument bordering on obsession (the young Vaughan would often fall asleep with his hands around his guitar), and it came with a steep price. Vaughan bore the scars of growing up in an abusive household — his father “had a volatile temper, especially when he was drinking, and could turn violent” — which he felt shaped his personality, especially his reliance on drugs and alcohol. “I learned all that stuff — the guilt and the shame — when I was a little kid,” he said. “I didn’t realize how deeply that was embedded in me.”
The chemicals started flowing early and soon defined Vaughan’s daily life almost as much as his guitar. “The drug-induced mayhem and chaos was endless,” says Chris Layton, the drummer in Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble. But after bottoming out on tour in Germany in 1987, Vaughan not only got clean, he became a shining example to his peers and an outspoken advocate for the A.A. program. Of course, we know how the story ends, which makes the tragedy that much worse: he avoided Overfamiliar Rock & Roll Death No. 1, an overdose, only to fall victim to Overfamiliar Rock & Roll Death No. 2, a vehicle crash.
An oral history is only as good as its sources, and “Texas Flood” is thorough and far-reaching, with Vaughan’s bandmates, crew and family taking center stage. Especially fascinating is his complicated relationship with his older brother, Jimmie, himself a spectacular guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds (“Stevie would never love another guitarist more than Jimmie,” says the crew member Cutter Brandenburg), and Vaughan’s ill-fated role in David Bowie’s band, an apparent big break that he quit because he was told he couldn’t promote his forthcoming debut album.
If there’s a disappointment in the book, it’s the lack of Vaughan’s own voice. Aledort interviewed him several times during his lifetime, but since those conversations were focused on specific projects, the quotes pulled for “Texas Flood” don’t leave much impression. Both authors are accomplished musicians and longtime contributors to Guitar World magazine, so occasionally things get a little gear-heavy.
It’s hard to think of anyone since Vaughan who has generated the same excitement around the guitar. Maybe those days are gone. But the burning intensity of his playing hasn’t dulled in the almost 30 years since his death. “He was probably the most fierce of the bluesmen I’ve ever heard,” says Bonnie Raitt. “He was playing as if his life depended on it, and it did.”
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