A FIRST LISTEN

A First Listen

Stevie Vaughan and Double Trouble
Recorded April 1, 1980, at Steamboat nightclub, Austin, Texas.
In 1979 a young Stevie Vaughan (the "Ray" would come three years later) was still synthesizing his influences, paring them down into his own voice. On one bootleg from this period, The First Thunder (from some outfit called Seagull Records), he sounds terribly rough, almost like one of those old urban bluesmen from the late 40s captured on someone's reel-to-reel.

Vaughan's full-blown Jimi Hendrix sound was only beginning to emerge, buried still under the rougher-hewed Texas blues of T-Bone Walker, Freddie King and Albert Collins. Vaughan also had yet to emerge as Double Trouble's lead vocalist, giving then-lead singer Lou Ann Barton most of the singing chores; when he did take a lead, he sounded hoarse and hesitant.

But what an amazing difference a year made: At first listen to the forthcoming recording, there's almost no difference between the young guitarist onstage at Steamboat and the would-be legend who captivated audiences not long before his death in the summer of 1990. A powerful presence emerges from both his fingertips and his throat, one that was not there just months earlier.

The Steamboat performance, which features bassist Jack Newhouse and drummer Chris Layton, is raw and frenetic--nerves, youth and controlled substances will do that--yet there's an amazing polish already present. Where the 1979 version of "I'm Crying" sounds sluggish and coarse, the 1980 rendition races along. Vaughan's playing is more confident, his style more direct.

Though it's definitely the work of an artist-in-progress, the tape picks up where last year's The Sky Is Crying--definitely the best material anyone's going to dig up at this point--left off, with Vaughan plowing through his blues influences like a man on fire. The majority of the album consists of old blues covers from the likes of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, each attacked and made new by a guitar player who shined brightest under the hot lights of a sweaty, packed club.

This version of "Tin Pan Alley," long a staple on Austin's KLBJ-FM, is the album's masterpiece. Its solo builds into an almost sorrowful crescendo, evoking the guitarist's "pain," of which Jack Newhouse speaks (see accompanying feature).

It should be noted that the centerpieces of The Sky Is Crying--the title track, Lonnie Mack's "Wham" and Hendrix's "Little Wing--were also performed that night, but won't be included on the new album because they just aren't as good.

So he ain't perfect. Never was.
Actually, if brother Jimmie Vaughan had wanted to release a wholly amazing live show of his brother's work, he'd have done better to go with the tape of an August 1990 Houston performance, which comes complete with a horn section and a riveting version of "Riviera Paradise." It can be purchased for about eight bucks on St. Mark's Street in New York City, where I bought mine. But this one'll do--at least until Epic Records breaks out the shovels again.

 
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