Texas guitarist and vocalist Jimmie Vaughan estab lished himself as a powerful blues presence as a member the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and laterasasolo artist. A native of Dallas, Texas and longtime resident of Austin, Texas, he offers contradictory blues that celebrate being alive as opposed to the usual “My-baby-done-left-me” blues commiseration. As the older brother of rock ‘n’ roll icon Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a tragic accident at the peak of his fame, he was noted for his musical craftsmanship more than the type of super-stardom his brother had achieved.
Vaughan covered his own material as well as songs such as Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Motorhead Baby” and other traditional Southwestern blues classics. The Houston Chronicle’s Marty Racine wrote, “Think Freddie-King-meets-Booker T and the MGs. It’s a mid-South circuitry that deviates from the usual Mississippi Delta/Chicago lineage and enriches the blues (much as Robert Cray did…) with an icy craftsmanship dedicated more to composition than form.” Vaughan refers to his music as “Dallas music” because it reminds him of the music that overwhelmed him when he was a child. His music reflects the Top 40 blues and r&b flavor of Texas in the 1950s and 1960s, with the addition of his own unique, soul-drenched style.
James Lee Vaughan was born in 1953, and by the time he was 14, he had already started sneaking out of his home and taking cabs to a local blues club in Dallas called the Empire Ballroom. One of the employees there would let Vaughan in through the back door and keep an eye on him. Vaughan saw performers such as Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, and other blues legends. By the time he was 15, he was playing lead guitar in a Dallas-based blues-rock band called the Chessmen. The Chessman covered the psychedelic, overblown sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and the Yardbirds. Guitar Worlds Alan Paul wrote of Vaughan, “His ability to play note-perfect versions of the day’s hits helped make … [the Chessmen] one of the city’s top club and college-circuit draws.” Vaughan told Paul, “I was making 300 bucks a week, more money than my dad …. Everyone else in the band was 21, and I was this little kid with attitude and a Telecaster. I knew all the licks.”
When Vaughan was 15 or 16, he opened for Jimi Hendrix as part of the Chessmen; since the band was known for its covers of Hendrix and Cream, the band couldn’t play half of its repertoire and opened with Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”. Vaughan told Paul, “[Hendrix’s] the Experience all came out of their dressing room to watch us, because they thoughtwewerefunny. Here they were in Texas, listening to a Cream cover band, and the guitarist is this little kid wearing a big jacket with feathers all over it. I was just trying to be as much like Hendrix as I could.”
Vaughan was a founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The group released five albums in six years, beginning in 1986 with the platinum Tough Enuff and its top ten single. Four years later in 1990, Vaughan enjoyed his last appearance with the band in Fort Hood, Texas. By the time Vaughan left the band, he had completed his first studio collaboration with his younger brother Stevie Ray. The album, Family Style, was released in 1990. A few weeks before the album’s release, Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin at the age of 35, plummeting his older brother Jimmie into a depression that lasted for roughly for two and half years.
In 1992, Eric Clapton asked Vaughan to open a series of concerts for him at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Although Vaughan hadn’t felt like touring or making an album since his brother’s death, he later explained to Epic, his label, thatthe reason he agreed toopen for Clapton was, “I just didn’t have the guts to tell him no.” The audience response to this series of concerts was so positive that Vaughan returned home and began workon his first Epic solo album, Strange Pleasure, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1993.
Strange Pleasure featured eleven songs, including “Six Strings Down,” a paean to his brother and other blues
Born James Lee Vaughan, 1953, in Dallas, TX.
Began playing as lead guitarist in a Dallas-based blues-rock band the Chessmen at the age of 15; opened for Jimi Hendrix as member of the Chessmen; founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds; left the Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1990; completed first studio collaboration with his younger brother, Stevie Ray, Family Style, 1990; Stevie Ray died in helicopter accident a few weeks before the album’s release; opened a series of concerts for Eric Clapton at London’s Royal Albert Hall, 1992; released his first solo album, Strange Pleasure, 1993; organized and directed A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan for PBS, 1995; released Out There, 1998.
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “SRV Shuffle,”1996.
legends, co-written by Vaughan with Art and Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers. Vaughan and his Tilt-A-Whirl Band toured extensively as both headliner and supporting act, and performed on the Conan O’Brien Show as well as Late Night With David Letterman. Two years later, in 1995, Vaughan organized and directed a one-time concert event in Austin called A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan, featuring performances by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, B.B. King, Art Neville, and Bonnie Raitt. The concert was released as an album and a videocassette, and the single “SRV Shuffle” earned Vaughan a Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Vaughan’s sound is defined by the presence of a swinging drummer and an organist playing bass with foot pedals, which gives him a unique roadhouse vibe. In 1998 Vaughan released Out There and returned to touring. Musician Magazine ’s Ted Drozdowski wrote of Out There, “The depth and simplicity qj his performance recalls the Buddhist notion that the universe’s secrets can be found in a single blade of grass.” After the release of Out There, Racine wrote, “Unlike Little Brother’s [Stevie Ray] stratospheric rock ‘n’ roll-ish bleed-all-over-the-frets confessions, Vaughan is grounded like a lightning rod.” Vaughan’s remarkable continuity established a bonafide trademark sound. Although Vaughan had been playing since the 1960s, he didn’t begin singing until the 1990s. He told Paul that he was scared to sing: “I was scared to death …. I would sound like a 12-year-old kid…. So I just never did it. Now I’m starting to enjoy it, and I have some nights where I think I’m actually pretty good at it.”
Vaughan told Paul that when he was 18 and just starting out in the music business, he assumed a record deal was the reward for hard work and for being a good musician. “And it was a real rude awakening when I found out that it had to do with all this other stuff, like who your manager was and what you looked like.” Vaughan eventually came to accept the ways of the music industry world—and the challenges of life—telling Drozdowski, “You know the little RCA dog? Well, that’s where I’m at, with my ear cocked up and listening. Freedom and honesty are where it’s at for me. I’m discovering things.”
Family Style, Epic Records, 1990.
Strange Pleasure, Epic, 1993.
Out There, Epic, 1998.
Guitar World, August 1998.
Houston Chronicle, June 28, 1998.
Musician, August 1998.
Request, August 1998.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
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