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.
"I was shocked to find out they were releasing this tape," Millikin says, "because we've been trying to get Jimmie and his lawyers to the table for so long, and all they do is stall, stall, stall. This is obviously a blatant disregard of any respect. It's the way they work, but it's not the way I work, and I'm not about to let them get away with something that's not right.
"I own the tape. Stevie didn't want it, and it was given to me by the radio station. I can't figure out where the fuck they got it. I've got it right here--well, not right here, but somewhere I'm not telling. It's just not right."
In Austin, however, it is difficult to find anyone associated with the tape's origins who believes Millikin owns it. They say Millikin actually turned down the recording when it was offered to him more than a decade ago.
Wayne Bell, KLBJ's program director in 1979-80 and the man who created the late-night program Better Late Than Never on which Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble played, says that until recently he possessed the only tape of that night's performance.
And that copy, he says, now belongs to the Stevie Ray Vaughan estate.
Earlier this year, Jimmie Vaughan and Mark Proct went looking for tapes of all the Stevie Ray concerts they could find. When their search led them to Bell, who quit the radio business in 1980 to resume film work, they made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Bell says he was happy to see the tape land in the hands of the estate before bootlegs of the show began popping up, thus "desecrating" Stevie Ray's memory. He says he handed it over for a small fee, enough to cover the expenses of recording the show and transferring it to a digital master.
"I was told [by Proct] that Jimmie was gathering all the good-quality live recordings he could find and would maybe take cuts off of different ones. It belongs to the estate now, which is where it should be."
Bell says shortly after the 1980 performance, engineer Malcolm Harper offered Millikin a high-quality, multitrack recording straight from a professional mixing board--but that Millikin turned it down. A few weeks later, the recording was taped over during another KLBJ on-air performance by a different artist; all that remains now is the two-track tape that was heard all over Austin on April 1, 1980.
Jimmie currently is tweaking the recording and readying the album, which Epic will release on September 29--unless, of course, Millikin is successful in his threatened plan to go to court to halt the process.
@body:Jack Newhouse does not care how many copies this album sells, nor does he concern himself with the brewing controversy.
It has taken more than a decade for this tape to surface, and Newhouse, who spends his days mixing drinks behind a bar at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in Austin, can wait a little longer.
Newhouse, you see, was the original bass player in Double Trouble, the guy you will hear thumping away behind a young Stevie Vaughan.
For a little more than two years, Newhouse was the one constant in an ever-evolving Double Trouble. When he joined the band in 1978, replacing bassist W.C. Clark, the group consisted of vocalist Lou Ann Barton, sax man Johnny Reno and drummer Freddie Walden. When Chesley Millikin kicked Newhouse out of the band in late 1980 in favor of Tommy Shannon, drummer Chris Layton had already come on board, rounding out the trio that would record Texas Flood in 1983 for Epic Records.
Newhouse, a soft-spoken guy in his late 30s dressed all in black, met me in Austin's Driskill hotel bar. As he sips a beer and puffs on a cigarette, he explains that he has never once looked back, never pondered what could have been.
"Well, maybe for a minute," he adds, laughing.
Though he can't recall much about April 1, 1980, Newhouse says playing in Double Trouble was "definitely the peak of my career." He remembers what it was like backing the frenetic guitarist--the response Stevie's playing would evoke from the audience, the emotion and pain with which Vaughan played, the "release" one got from being around him.
"I've heard guitar players who were technically better than he is, but I don't think I've ever heard or played with someone who played with so much emotion or put so much of themselves into it," Newhouse says. "I don't know if it was that particular night, but there was one night at Steamboat when someone came up to him and said, 'I just timed you on "Texas Flood," and you played the song for 18 minutes.'
"Stevie said, 'Well, I just had to get it out.'"
Histories of the band don't mention Newhouse; even the first press release for Texas Flood omits his name, making it appear that Tommy Shannon was the band's one and only bassist. And whenever "Tin Pan Alley," a cut from the Steamboat show, airs on KLBJ, Shannon gets credit for the bass part.
"When I first started tending bar at the airport," Newhouse says, "I'd be talking to someone, and it came up in the conversation that I played music, and they'd ask, 'Well, who did you play with?' I'd tell em, and they'd go--he rolls his eyes--'Yeah, right.' You knew what they were thinking. So it got to the point where I just didn't even bring it up."
To make matters worse, most of Newhouse's memorabilia from the old days were destroyed in a flood a few years ago. All that remains are a few newspaper clippings and a tape made during a 1979 performance at the Bluebird Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas, featuring Johnny Reno on sax.
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But in a little less than a month, Newhouse will have the proof--a nicely pressed CD in a slick package, prominently featuring his mug. It will be Newhouse's chance to regain the fame--and perhaps a little of the fortune--denied him 12 years ago, when the band dumped him.
"It's exciting, sure," Newhouse says, "but the only regret I have is that it's being released because there's nothing else there. That's the sad thing about it.
"It took Stevie's death to get this album out, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody."
A FIRST LISTEN... v9-16-92