Stevie Ray Vaughan Resurgence

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Photo Credit:  John Rockwood

This year saw the release of two recordings showcasing the emerging talent that would spawn the rebirth of the blues in popular culture in the 1980’s.  The first is a recording of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble in a small club in Norfolk, Virginia in 1980.  This club, The King’s Head Inn, was popular with the college crowd from the nearby Old Dominion University and the show was taped for radio broadcast by local station WNOR.

While Stevie had been playing in a variety of bands for over 10 years by the time Double Trouble was formed in 1978, this recording dates from three years prior to the release of the band’s first album, Texas Flood.  Unsigned by a major label and unrestrained, Stevie was free to play the music he loved and the raw power and talent of this performer is up-front and center.

Stevie was known to be a loner in his school days and absorbed into the guitar.  He was self-taught and learned to play by ear, resulting in a man who knew every sound his guitar would make, whatever he would do to it.  While his style was heavily influenced first by Lonnie Mack, and later, Jimi Hendrix, his performances encompassed little nuances and throw away notes and riffs that many contemporary artists have to learn to add to their repertoire if they want to emulate the SRV catalog.

The King’s Head Inn recording features only two Stevie penned numbers and many of the blues favorites by the artists he admired.  The tempo is fast-paced and the band is tight.  You’ll be familiar with many of the songs because they would later show up on Double Trouble studio recordings, but a couple of songs only appear here.  The first is Freddie King’s Hideway that opens the cd.  The cd ends with a couple of Hendrix covers, the second of which, Drivin’ South, only appears on this cd.

One of the highlights of the cd is when Stevie gets to the Hendrix material, the last two songs on the cd.  While his version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) became a SRV concert staple, at one point he stops and asks the crowd, “Anybody here like Jimi Hendrix?”  Then he breaks into a killer version of Little Wing before closing with the more obscure Drivin’ South.  After a series of Texas shuffles and juke numbers, his performance of Little Wing is a showcase of his command of the sublety and beauty capable on a Stratocaster.

There are other live versions of Double Trouble but this one has a certain energy and spontaneity the other recordings lack and as it turns out, the radio broadcast ends at the conclusion of the first set of the night.  To think that this could have been a 3 cd set of the complete show makes one wonder when the rest of the show will be released, if at all.  Worthy of inclusion in your SRV catalog of releases and recommended if you’ve never heard this man live.  A real glimpse of what everyone was excited about when this guy finally got exposure outside of the State of Texas.

As the now famous story goes, Double Trouble’s strong performances enabled the band to get booked at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival.  In the audience at this show were both David Bowie and Jackson Browne, both of whom were genuinely impressed by this unsigned artist.  Bowie recruited Stevie to play guitar on the multi-million selling Let’s Dance released in early 1983 but Stevie’s management talked him out of signing up for Bowie’s subsequent Serious Moonlight tour to support the album.  Instead, he returned to the United States and Jackson Browne let the band use his personal recording studio in order to record their initial release, Texas Flood.  This cd was a seminal release for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that blues music was being played on the then popular MTV and with the band’s videos in high rotation, the take-over of the planet was sure to follow.

The 30th Anniversary release of Texas Flood this year includes a remastered copy of the original record, as well as a complete live performance at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recorded on October 20, 1983.  The songs here will all be familiar and find Stevie, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton riding that wave of newfound notoriety that their top-selling record ensured.  All of the classics are here, including the Blues Instrumental of the Year, Rude Mood.

The remastered version of the original recording sounds clean and crisp.  I listened to this with great anticipation because I wore out this record back in the day.  I had not heard the complete release in a long time and it was like an enjoyable dinner with an old friend.

The live recording from Ripley Hall was the tour supporting their new record and the band was playing a cleaner more nuanced show, in comparison to the grit and fire of the King’s Head gig.  A highlight here is that Little Wing segue ways into Third Stone From The Sun, another song that doesn’t appear on a studio release by the band.

If you don’t already have a copy of Texas Flood, this 30th Anniversary edition is highly recommended, if only to make sure you get a copy of the Ripley show too.  Be careful what you pick up in the rack down at the record shop, there was a re-release of Texas Flood in 1999 that featured some extra tracks from the recording sessions and five live tracks, including an interview of Stevie Ray.

If you already have a copy of Texas Flood, be sure to get a copy of the King’s Head show and get love struck for Stevie Ray and Double Trouble all over again.

As a bonus, if you’re the ‘visual’ type and wondering how Stevie Ray played those notes, that same 1983 tour included a date at the El Macambo in Toronto, Ontario.  That show was videotaped and a DVD released with that night’s show.  I’ve seen Stevie and the band in concert three times but I had never seen them do Third Stone From The Sun live.  I was absolutely stunned to see Stevie’s performance of this song included him jumping up and down on his beloved Fender Strat.  Ever wonder how his guitar looked like it was dragged behind the van to every show?  Now you know.  Get this DVD for somebody for Christmas for the full SRV experience.

~ Daryll Davis

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