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Austin, Texas--Until recently the legacy of Stevie Ray Vaughan had been that of a modern-day blues master.
He was an honest-to-God guitar hero whose fiery brilliance on the Fender Stratocaster mesmerized a generation unfamiliar with such legends as T-Bone Walker, Elmore James and Muddy Waters. The Oak Cliff, Texas, native's death on August 27, 1990, left a void in the music world that looks to go unfilled for years to come.
But two years after Vaughan died in a helicopter crash, an unseemly controversy surrounding the upcoming release of a live album taped in Austin--a dozen years ago--is threatening to mar what he left behind.
On September 29--four days before Vaughan would have turned 38--Epic Records is scheduled to issue a third posthumous work featuring never-before-released Vaughan material: an April 1, 1980, concert recorded at the Austin nightclub Steamboat and broadcast live on KLBJ-FM, then Austin's premier freeform rock station (for a preview of the album, see accompanying story). Epic and Stevie Ray's estate, for which big brother Jimmie serves as executor, already have released The Sky Is Crying, a ten-song collection of studio rarities and outtakes; and the Live at the El Mocambo videotape, recorded in Toronto in 1983.
During a rare interview with the Dallas Times Herald in March 1991, Jimmie--who is supervising the release of the upcoming 1980 tape--said he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life remixing and releasing Stevie's material. He had his own life and career to get on with. At the time, he planned to release maybe one album of his brother's choice studio tracks and then pursue projects of his own, including an album with guitar legend Les Paul, a tribute to Muddy Waters and his own solo work.
But more than a year later, none of those projects has materialized. Both the Les Paul and Muddy Waters albums have been aborted, and Jimmie won't begin work on a solo album until sometime after September--after yet another of his late brother's albums is in stores.
Has Jimmie become satisfied with making easy money? By one knowledgeable account, Stevie's estate--Jimmie and mother Martha--made somewhere between $1 and $3 million from The Sky Is Crying, Stevie's best-selling album ever, and from Live at the El Mocambo.
Jimmie was unavailable for comment. But his Austin-based manager, Mark Proct, insists Jimmie isn't "financially motivated" when it comes to releasing Stevie's work--that Jimmie just wants to make sure the best material hits the market before unauthorized bootleg recordings start flooding in.
And there's also the fans to consider, the faithful to whom every note Stevie Ray played is golden, history. Jimmie, Proct claims, isn't even counting on this being a hit record with hit singles.
But there's another motivation driving this project, Proct admits. Sony Music, which owns Epic, wants Jimmie to release more Stevie Ray material--and quick. Jimmie would rather get on with his life and out from under his brother's shadow, Proct says, but Sony has asked Jimmie to supervise the remixing and sequencing process--or else.
"Jimmie's so sensitive about all this stuff, because if he even sees the hint of someone calling him exploitative, he'll go into a shell," Proct says. "That's the last thing on his mind. He's trying to be a good executor of his brother's estate--and fulfill obligations to the label. It's just a matter of maintaining a balance with the label."
According to Proct, Sony has told Jimmie that if he doesn't keep overseeing the release of Stevie's unreleased work, it will start issuing assorted inferior junk tapes sitting in the label's vaults. When Stevie died, he had not yet fulfilled his contract with Epic, Proct says, and the label isn't going to let a little thing like Stevie's death keep that from happening.
Epic Records' Tony Martell, who is overseeing the album's release for the label, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
This creates yet another bond between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Ever since Hendrix's death in 1970, Warner Bros. Records has been releasing, almost annually, amazingly subpar material by that guitar great--outtakes, B sides, God-awful live shows, half-finished demos, radio-show interviews--and garnering criticism from other record execs and even the cultish fans.
It's one Hendrix comparison that Proct, Jimmie and everyone else could do without.
"Sony's not the bad guy, but I will say they are in business," Proct says, then pauses. "On the one hand, they've been sensitive, but they're in the business to sell records. It's a fine line to cross."
And a fine cross to bear.
@body:If Chesley Millikin has his way, the latest addition to the Stevie Ray Vaughan catalogue is going to stay right where it's been for the past 12 years--locked away somewhere, far out of earshot of the people who snatched up more than 1.5 million copies of The Sky Is Crying last fall.
Millikin, who served as the guitarist's manager from 1980 to 1986 and who now runs Austin's Manor Downs, claims he owns the rights to the tape and is threatening legal action to bar its release.
The man who introduced Stevie Ray to Mick Jagger and to the legendary producer John Hammond isn't about to let Stevie Ray's heirs make another million dollars or more off the dead guitarist--at least not without getting some for himself.
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