Fabulous Flip Sides – The Fabulous Thunderbirds - Interview with Jimmie Vaughan

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We look back on both sides of the 1986 “Tuff Enuff” Top 10 single, discuss Jimmie’s new Grammy nominated blues album, and learn about an upcoming artwork tribute to the blues guitar brothers Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan in Texas.

By Warren Kurtz

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GOLDMINE:Congratulations on your Grammy nomination for your Baby, Please Come Home album. I am rooting for you in the blues category, Gloria Gaynor for gospel, The Cranberries for rock, and Little Big Town for country. I am excited to watch the show for the results.

JIMMIE VAUGHAN: Well, thank you. I think our category is in the daytime and will be mentioned at the nighttime show, but it is good to be nominated.

GM:Before we get to the new songs, let’s look back to the first time I heard you on the radio, with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I had heard of the band when we were living in Texas in the early 1980s, but it was the song “Tuff Enuff” that the radio stations played a lot. Your guitar sound reminded me of what we heard from fellow Texan Billy Gibbons on ZZ Top’s “Legs.”

JV: I’ve known Billy since I was fourteen. Billy and I are also part of an entourage called The Jungle Show and we just did a pair of concerts last month here in Austin and have been doing it for the last couple years. We do some ZZ Top songs, some of my songs, and more. With “Tuff Enuff,” there was a lot of overdubbing of guitar sounds, which was Dave Edmunds idea as our producer.

GM:I also heard “Tuff Enuff” in the 1986 film Gung Ho. The flip side of “Tuff Enuff” is “Look at That, Look at That,” with Chuck Leavell as a guest on piano and it features Kim Wilson’s harmonica. It is such a fun song.

JV: That is one of my favorite songs that we did. It was real exciting and came together quickly. We all wrote the lyrics. Everybody threw a line in here and there. It was just fun.

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The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Flip side: Look at That, Look at That

A side: Tuff Enuff

Top 100 debut: April 19, 1986

Peak Position No. 10

CBS Associated 05838

GM:With your new album, you cover songs from Lloyd Price, Fats Domino and others, where I have greatest hits collections by these artists, but didn’t know any of these songs. Where did you find all of these rarities?

JV: I’m always looking for that kind of stuff and I am a big fan of all of these artists. For example, “No One To Talk To (But the Blues)” is Lefty Frizzell.

GM:I love his song “The Long Black Veil,” which I learned through The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Now I have learned “No One To Talk To (But the Blues)” through you and that is one of my favorites with the guitar and sax combination and a 1950s sound that I really enjoy.

JV: That is what I like to do. A lot of times when I write songs, I write in that style anyway. I like to take hillbilly songs and crazy songs and do them my way, which is what I really enjoy doing. I am just doing what I like. With The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the record company would suggest that we need to do this or that or they couldn’t get us on the radio. Well, the people who like us don’t care about all that. We aren’t getting the crowd following the hit du jour anymore.

GM:On the new album, “What’s Your Name?” is another up-tempo favorite of mine. With the guitar, sax and liveliness it reminds me of Bill Haley and His Comets.

JV: That one is from Chuck Willis. He wrote a lot of great songs and I have done several of his songs over the years. I love all that 1950s kind of stuff because of the mix of country, R&B, blues and rock and roll. It was just American.

GM:You mentioned R&B. When I listen to “Midnight Hour” I think of Ray Charles.

JV: That one is a Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown song and I didn’t change it that much. I just love all that stuff. For me, I am trying to make art.

GM:The live sound of the instrumental “Hold It” is fun. You feel like you are right there in a club.

JV: That was live. We did it right at C-Boys Heart and Soul in Austin, a place where we still play. We did 120 dates in 2019, all around the country, but when you come home you don’t want to stop playing because you want to keep your hands limber. It is a lot of fun to just play, so we take the trio over there and perform. I have been playing in clubs since I was young, growing up in Dallas.

GM:I enjoy the organ sounds of Mike Flanigin on the album.

JV: He’s another Texan, from the Denton area. His father was in the military and his family moved around a lot. Mike’s sister played the Hammond B3 organ in church, so he was around that sound a lot. He was a music fan as a teenager like me, so he started playing the B3 in just the last few years, as he is a guitar player. Since I was a teenager I listened to those organ trios, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, all those guys, who also played bass with their feet and left hand on the instrument. That is what we used to listen to when I was a teenager, which was really popular in the early 1960s. When we play as a trio, Mike plays bass too.

GM:There is a brass sound on the record too, making for a nice full and fun sound.

JV: Yes. Greg Piccolo and Doug James, both on sax, and The Roomful of Blues Horns. I like having tenor sax, baritone sax, trumpet and trombone. That sound is hard to beat.

GM:My daughter Brianna is a trumpeter and a native Texan. I look forward to playing the album for her. You play a variety of guitars.

JV: They are mainly Fender Stratocasters. Some are custom made. They are like race cars. Some are wound a little different. They have big frets and I use flat wound strings.

GM:Your dates for 2020 are starting to be listed on your website. I see that you will be with Buddy Guy and Charlie Musselwhite in California.

JV: We’ll also be around here in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. On the 20th of March, on my 69th birthday, there will be the unveiling of a piece of artwork at Kiest Park, just down the road from the house where Stevie and I grew up in Dallas, in the Oak Cliff area. The artwork is around ten or twelve feet high. It will be thirty years this summer since he was killed.

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Vaughan Brothers sculpture, Oak Cliff’s Kiest Park, courtesy of Jimmie Vaughan

GM:Congratulations to you and your family. We all, of course, mourn the loss of your brother, and congratulations again on the new music.

JV: Thank you very much. I am going to keep it up. I really like my new record company from England called The Last Record Company. We will have a box set later this year that will be career spanning plus new songs. Thank you for writing all of this for us and helping us out with Goldmine.

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Photo by Todd V. Wolfson courtesy of Conqueroo

Related links:

jimmievaughan.com

lastmusic.co.uk

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.

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