By Rush Evans
Just because Jimmie Vaughan has recently turned 70 and put together a massive five-CD, one-LP, and two-45s box set doesn’t mean he’s retiring. He’s about to hit the road with Eric Clapton on a big arena tour, occasionally plays with Billy Gibbons and other friends as “The Jungle Show,” and plays many a Friday and Saturday night at home in Austin, Texas at the tiny C-Boy’s club on Congress Avenue a few miles from the State Capitol building.
He’s a bluesman, and a bluesman needs to play the blues. It’s a personal thing, and it’s all he’s ever done. The entire Jimmie Vaughan Story box set is a personal venture, with every copy of this limited-edition release autographed in advance by the man himself. The set also includes photographs from his entire life and liner notes by him covering his career of more than half a century. For the first time, we get to hear tracks from The Storm, his early Dallas band before he and the Fabulous Thunderbirds became the house band at Antone’s club in Austin, where they backed up every blues legend that came before them. Then they made their own hit records and toured the world, just about the same time that Jimmie’s little brother Stevie Ray was making his own mark with a fiery blues-fused style all his own.
The five discs also include plenty of Thunderbirds tracks, solo career tracks, and Jimmie’s distinctive blues guitar sound as he accompanies everyone from John Lee Hooker to Bo Diddley. And there are even tracks from the record he made with his brother just before the younger Vaughan perished in a helicopter crash in 1990.
I got to speak with Vaughan recently about the whole project and so much more.
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the box set!
JIMMIE VAUGHAN: It’s pretty exciting. A lot of work. It’s really been fun. I’m glad I kept all this stuff! They were tapes that I had stored away.
GM: You are a great rock blues singer, but you were almost forty before singing, having been around for decades as a successful guitarist. Did you stumble into having to be a singer?
JV: The truth of it is, when I was a kid, 14, 15, I had all these albums by Muddy Waters and BB King, and my little voice sounded like this [high-pitched]. I was still a teenager, so I had a teenager voice, a little kid voice. I didn’t know what to do so I just played guitar. You couldn’t tell on the guitar how old I was, ‘cause you couldn’t see me, right? This was all in my mind. There was always a singer, so I was happy to be the guitar player. And then, all of a sudden, when we went to do Family Style, the producer, Nile Rodgers, he looked at Stevie when we were having our first meeting, he said, “What songs do you want to sing?” And Stevie said, ‘This one and this one.’ So then he looked at me and said, ‘What songs are you gonna sing?’ I was like, “Uhh…” It was either sing or go home was the feeling, and I sure didn’t want to go home! I’m being a little silly, but I always wanted to sing when I started playing the guitar. It took a while to be backed into the corner where I had to sing. But it was really something that I’d always wanted to do. I was just nervous. Doyle and Paul Ray and Kim were always great singers, that’s something they did. I got to play guitar, which was a lot of fun to me. It evolved. So now I sing, too.
GM: I’m so glad Family Style is represented on the box. The great thing about that record is that it didn’t sound like a Thunderbirds record you’d been making before or like the ones that Stevie had been making before. How much of that was a result of Nile’s involvement?
JV: We did that on purpose. That was the goal. Stevie had worked with Nile on David Bowie when they had “Let’s Dance,” which was a giant smash hit if there ever was one. That was Number One forever. So when Tony Martell at Epic Records, he was like the president, he was the guy who signed the Thunderbirds and Stevie and the Vaughan Brothers, he was always a champion of us. He was always very encouraging. He asked us for several years before we actually did it. Whenever he would see one of us, he would go, “Hey, why don’t you and your brother make an album, the Vaughan brothers?”
GM: You and Stevie had been working the road real heavy separately up to that point. On a personal level, was it great just to be working together, to be off the road and just hanging out as brothers?
JV: Absolutely. It was like a dream come true with the gig. First, we did it in my garage. We tried to figure out what we were gonna do. “Well, you better go write some songs and I better go write some songs. This’ll be really good.” We went back and forth, but once we got going, it was really great. I think it was about three months. We did it in Dallas, Memphis, and New York.
GM: How big a deal was this record to your mom, and was she around when you were making it?
JV: Yeah, she was there a lot at that time. Stevie was back in Dallas at that point. I remember that she was real happy about it. It was kind of a dream come true for her, too. I know when she heard “Good Texan,” it’s a little bit naughty or nasty, a little bit sexual. After she heard it, she looked at me, and she goes, “Jim!” She became mother again. “You shouldn’t have done that. You should be ashamed of yourself!” We recorded the album, about three months, and it wasn’t too long after that, we were all up there, and Stevie got killed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was just right before it came out. Then it was like, they already had the first single was set, and it was gonna be “Good Texan.” And we were like, “No, you can’t put that out. It’s not gonna be right.” Everybody was mourning Stevie. It was a very sad crazy time. It just didn’t seem right. So we put out ‘Tick Tock’ as the first single, after much hand-wringing. It was the right call. Had Stevie not had the accident, it would’ve been completely different.
GM: Family Style changed the course of your career, right? Because you hadn’t officially left the T-birds.
JV: It changed everything in my life. Everything. I didn’t want to go out on the road and have people come and look at me, you know what I mean? What was I gonna say? I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to feel, I didn’t know what to think. It was just sad. At the same time, we were really proud of this record, Stevie, of course, too. All the hurt feelings. We just didn’t know what to do for a long time.
GM: I read in the box set book that it was your own grief and your own friend Eric Clapton that steered you towards your own career after that.
JV: Yes. Eric was very nice and wonderful and supportive through the whole thing. And then he called me up and said, “Why don’t you come play with me over here in England and get away from over there? Just come play guitar. Just leave that behind you. Just come play.” I was like, “Okay, I can do that.” So he really helped me come back out. It’s been 31 years. Can you believe that?
GM: I still remember where I was. You’ve done great things with his remaining recordings, so we got to hear more Stevie since he passed. I thank you for that. Once you made your first solo record, Strange Pleasure, is that when you realized your plan, that you were going to be a solo artist from then on?
JV: I think so. You’re always looking forward, trying to figure out what you’re gonna do next. I had a great time, I had a great band, I had a lot of fun making all those records. And it felt great to play again. And here we are now.
GM: Here we are with five CDs, an LP, and two singles in this box set. Beyond T-birds and Stevie, you’ve collaborated with everybody, as the box reveals. Your guitar is the constant. You have a very distinctive sound. I call it your “plays well with others” ability. Do you attribute that to having been in the house band at Antone’s back in the day? Is that why you can play well with everybody?
JV: There’s not really anybody on here that I didn’t really appreciate their singing or their playing. I wanted to be with everyone, so I’m a fan of all these people that I am on the record with. It’s all of those emotions. Jimmy Rogers, Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy, Eddie Taylor, Lou Ann, on and on and on. We just had so much fun. “Wine Wine Wine” with Billy Gibbons, a friend of mine since I was fourteen. I’ve known him since I was 14. I just turned 70 in March. We don’t need to add that up! When I was in the Chessman, before I ever moved to Austin, we used to come down here to play fraternity parties, and we would play in Houston in a club called the Catacombs in the sixties. One time we played on a double bill, we were on the same stage, the Moving Sidewalks with Billy Gibbons and [my early band] Texas with Jimmie Vaughan, and we were like battling it out.
GM: Speaking of interesting tracks, that University of Texas Longhorn Band recording from the field at Darrell Royal Stadium at a UT football game was just great!
JV: Yeah, how about that? That was really fun! And what a trip to get to play with the whole Longhorn Band. The recording was a young lady that was in the stands that recorded it on her phone! We didn’t officially record it, I don’t believe. I found it on Youtube. It was a college girl that went to the game and recorded it on her phone. I thought that was a plus.
GM: You got the audio from her video of the recording?
JV: Yes. There’s a picture in the book of when it happened. People don’t realize it was raining like cats and dogs! Even when you look at the picture, you can’t really see it, but it was raining. My guitar was completely soaked and so was the whole band. Everybody.
GM: It was perfect for the song “Texas Flood!”
JV: Yeah! How about that?
GM: When Prince did the Superbowl half-time show and performed “Purple Rain” in the rain, somebody asked him if he needed anything, and he said, “Could you make it rain harder?”
JV: Ha ha! We had that going!
GM: One big question: you’re about to tour arenas with Clapton, you’ve played for every size audience, you have this grand box set now, but here in in Austin, we can still see you in a tiny club on a regular basis at C-Boy’s. Why is that? Are you like Willie, you just can’t get off the road and stage?
JV: Here’s the thing: We wanna play all the time, ‘cause you need to play. It’s not the same to play in your house as it is in front of a live audience. I just like to play, and I like to play with my band. So we do those gigs. It’s just for fun and to keep things warmed up, you know. You never know what’s gonna happen. We play all around the country on all these festivals and all different kinds of things, but you gotta have one place where you can just do whatever you want. Not that we don’t do what we want on the gig; that’s not what I mean. I just mean it’s just fun to go down to the gig and we get to come home.
GM: Your answer was pretty much what I expected: you can’t stop because it’s fun! You were doing it as a teenager and you’re doing it now. It’s a beautiful thing. It keeps it fresh and raw.
JV: Everybody learned how to play in the clubs in the fifties and sixties, you know.
GM: Brian Hofeldt of the country rockin’ Derailers always says the way to see the Derailers is in their natural habitat in Austin at the Broken Spoke dance hall. So maybe C-Boy’s is your natural habitat.
JV: Ha ha! There you go! That’s right. Thank you for your help, I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing you around somewhere!
Somewhere turned out to be Austin’s Frank Erwin Center just a few weeks after our interview. Jimmie opened the show for his old friend Eric Clapton at the University of Texas basketball arena. I had seen Stevie Ray Vaughan there in 1989, whose set that night included the powerful blues tune, “Texas Flood.” Jimmie did the same song his way in the same room in 2021. The Vaughan Family Style of blues was still flooding the state more than 30 years later.