One lazy afternoon in the spring of 1978 I received a call from Doc Pomus, the late, great songwriter who was like a second father to me. “Come down to the Lone Star tonight,” Doc said. “There’s a terrific blues and R&B singer in from Austin that I know you’ll love.” After a brief pause he added, “Her guitar player’s not bad either.”
At New York City’s fabled Lone Star Cafe on lower Fifth Avenue, the singer in question, a slim dynamo named Lou Ann Barton, fronted a band calling itself Double Trouble. Before she came on, her backing trio did a short opening set that left those in attendance slack-jawed and maybe in shock, thanks to the jolt supplied by a virtually unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan. For 20 minutes he fashioned inventive guitar solos betraying the influences of masters ranging from T-Bone Walker to Hubert Sumlin to Albert King to Lonnie Mack, with some Wes Montgomery octave chords thrown in for good measure, and also proved himself an affecting vocalist with an assured stage presence. When it was all over—and a deferential Stevie had come by the table to pay his respects to Doc—a bit of Pomus wisdom capped the night. “Lou Ann should be a star,” he observed as if it should be obvious to all, “but Stevie will be a star.”
A vivid reminder of that incredible Lone Star night crossed my desk recently in the form of Analogue Productions’ meticulously, sensitively crafted vinyl box set (bearing a hefty $400 price tag) containing SRV’s five studio albums and his first posthumous anthology (The Sky Is Crying, assembled by brother Jimmie Vaughan). On these 200-gram remastered vinyl discs tellingly sourced from the original 30ips analog master tapes the crisp, sizzling sonics capture the heft of Double Trouble’s onstage assault, but now with even more pop and crunch, and, in the case of Reese Wynans’ keyboards, scintillatingly enhanced atmospherics.
It’s all here and potent as ever: from the debt Stevie repays to Texas blues, R&B, and traditional rock ’n’ roll on his debut, Texas Flood; to the inventive stretching evident on Couldn’t Stand The Weather (check the jazz-flavored Charlie Christian-Kenny Burrell homage, “Stang’s Swang”); to the great leap forward on Soul to Soul (with a richer band sound, courtesy of Wynans and sax man Joe Sublett, plus Stevie’s first moving ballad, “Life Without Love”); to his maturing as a songwriter (“Crossfire” being one of his finest originals) and interpreter on In Step, his final studio album. Supplementing these LPs is Family Style, Stevie’s 1990 teaming with brother Jimmie, featuring bold displays of the fire and the tenderness common to the Vaughans’ art, as instrumentalists and as underrated vocalists. An often stirring overview of SRV’s stylistic range, the aforementioned The Sky Is Crying closes on a somber note with Stevie’s first recorded acoustic solo effort, “Life By the Drop.” Herein the newly sober artist reveals how precious he now viewed life and love. That this moment ends is as wrenching as it is haunting. Stevie Ray Vaughan belongs to the ages, but the ages have yet to catch up to him. Not bad at all