The hard rockin’ life and death of Stevie Ray Vaughn
Stevie Ray Vaughan always burned the candle at both ends. Then he started in on the middle.
A booze-and-coke habit wasn’t unusual among musicians. But the depth of Vaughan’s worried even Muddy Waters, a sly veteran still singing “Champagne and Reefer” in his 70s.
“Stevie could perhaps be the greatest guitar player that ever lived,” the older man noted. “But he won’t live to get 40 years old if he doesn’t leave that white powder alone.”
“Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan” shows just how right, and wrong, Muddy Waters was.
The book, an oral history by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort, celebrates Vaughan’s virtuosity. It also details his addictions and the awful toll they took.
But while the story ends sadly, it also includes a surprising note of grace.
Vaughan was born in Dallas in 1954, to Martha and “Big Jim” Vaughan, and with his older brother Jimmie already waiting at home. Daddy was a drinker and a cruel disciplinarian.
By the time they were 7 and 10, Stevie Ray and Jimmie had their first guitars. They were immediately obsessed.
Within months, Jimmie was in a band. By the time he was 15, he was in a group, The Chessmen, with a record contract. He quickly dropped out, left home, and didn’t look back.
Stories circulated, though of how The Chessman opened for Hendrix. Jimmie met Janis Joplin, and she invited him to visit her in San Francisco. Naturally, he went.
Big Jim Vaughan warned his younger son not to turn out like his brother. Stevie Ray couldn’t think of anyone he would rather be. He kept practicing his guitar. When the strings tore up his fingertips, he fixed the wounds with Krazy Glue.
He had no home and couch-surfed where he could. His drug use deepened and not surprisingly, he became erratic and undependable. One day, he impulsively married a moody new girlfriend, twisting a gum wrapper into a wedding ring.
“What’s your anniversary present going to be, a newspaper?” a friend cracked.
If it were, it was going to be all bad news. Stevie Ray’s new bride had her own drug problem and, as another buddy observed, “as many personalities as Heinz has varieties.” Technically the marriage lasted nine years but was doomed from the start.
As Stevie Ray’s life was falling apart, by the early ’80s, the band was starting to rise. They got a new manager who made things happen.
He secured a slot for them at New York’s Danceteria, where they auditioned for Mick Jagger’s new Rolling Stone Records. He also landed them two nights opening for the Clash.
Jagger passed, though. “I like them, but everybody knows the blues doesn’t sell,” he said. The hard-core punk fans of the Clash booed Double Trouble so lustily, that the two bands agreed to cut the two nights to one.
Afterward, David Bowie asked to meet them and invited Stevie Ray to play on his next album. Jackson Browne jammed with them and hearing they didn’t have a record contract, offered free time in his studio to cut a demo.
Bowie’s new album turned out to be “Let’s Dance,” with Stevie Ray playing blistering solos on several songs, including the title track. The group’s demo tapes made their way to John Hammond, who signed everyone from Benny Goodman to Bruce Springsteen.
Hammond convinced Epic Records to sign Stevie Ray Vaughan, too. Stevie Ray insisted Double Trouble be part of the deal.
But Stevie Ray was already strapped into a roller coaster. He used coke so he could drink more, then he would drink even more to come down from the coke. Eventually, to save time and his ravaged nostrils, he simply poured the cocaine into glasses of Crown Royal.
No one could last like that. On Sept. 28, 1986, on tour in Europe, he collapsed in a German hotel room, vomiting blood. He was rushed to the hospital.
The next day, the band resumed the tour. They had gigs to play.
But their manager started making calls. First, he phoned the doctor who had helped Clapton kick his habits. Then he called Stevie Ray's mother and his new girlfriend. They flew out to the band’s next stop, in London.
Finally, Stevie Ray agreed to go into treatment.
“Something had to give,” said Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans. “And what gave was Stevie.”