Music has always played a huge role in my life – whether it’s playing the piano and guitar, or listening to a wide variety of musical genres, there isn’t a period of my life that doesn’t have a musical soundtrack attached to it. Over my years in the media, I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities, including some notable music entertainers. This new column will serve as a platform for me to write about those experiences – how I met the artist, and anything they said or did that left a lasting impression. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the reporter’s curtain.
Last month I had the opportunity to meet, and speak with, Jimmie Vaughan. Most people think of him as “Stevie Ray’s brother.” Lord knows, he’s carried that baggage around since Stevie’s untimely death in 1990.
But Jimmie was the first Vaughan brother – the first to be born, the first to play guitar, the first to move to Austin, the first to form a recording band, and the first to hit the charts. It was the Fabulous Thunderbirds that I remember from the 1980’s.
Ah, the 80’s. All of us teenagers of that decade – the baby sisters and brothers of the “Me Decade” children – were the MTV generation. We got to know our favorite bands in a way that no one else ever had before videos. For us, video didn’t really kill the radio star, but it sure made a difference in the Billboard Hot 100 list that radio stations picked from.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds fit nicely between “Beat It” and “Walk Like An Egyptian.” We teased our hair high, squeezed into our denim miniskirts, stepped into our stilettos, and danced all night at the local clubs.
On Saturday’s we all met up at the house that had cable and got ready while watching MTV. We imagined ourselves in a video world, and adopted the look and swagger of the models we saw the bands drooling over. While we strutted around the dance floor to Vince Vance and The Valliant’s we imagined they were our favorite video bands – like the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
I remember sitting at Denny’s one very early Sunday morning looking across the booth at my friend, who had eye liner running down her cheek and her once-perfect hair looked like she had just rolled down a hill into a creek bed. I simply said “you look like sh!t.” She pulled out her compact and pushed the mirror in my face while saying “so do you.”
Even now, when I think back to the 80’s, that phrase – “you look like sh!t” still comes to mind. We came of age during the decade of excess. Everything was bigger – not just the hair and shoulder pads. We were all living large, like it would never end, and we would never grow up. It should be called the Neverland decade.
The year 1990 hit us like slamming into a brick wall. We were mother’s, wives, entry level career women. Our skirts were longer, our hair was shorter – we became homeroom mothers and baked cookies. We could no longer be seen in public looking like we rolled down a hill.
Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan were ahead of the curve. They got clean when being sober wasn’t cool. What was even more “uncool,” was that Stevie preached about getting clean during live shows. Looking back, I wonder how many lives he must have saved.
How ironic that Stevie died after living through the hell of drug and alcohol addiction. But that isn’t the only ironic thing about August 27, 1990.
After he finished playing that Sunday night in East Troy, Wisconsin, Stevie told his brother that he wanted to go home to Dallas early. Jimmie said “I came all the way here to see you and you’re leaving early?” The truth is that Stevie had a new girlfriend and, since he no longer used or drank, had no reason to stick around.
So, Jimmie gave up his seat on the helicopter so Stevie Ray could leave early. Yes – Jimmie gave his little brother his seat on that doomed flight that lasted barely five minutes before crashing into a mountain and killing everyone on board.
Let’s pause right here and think about that a minute.
Jimmie left later and had no idea what happened until he awoke in Texas the next morning. There were no cell phones, no social media. He had no idea that his little brother died on that helicopter for 24 hours.
Eric Clapton lost members of his crew on that flight and was called to the hospital to identify their bodies. Jimmie was called to identify his brother.
“The worst thing for me was that Stevie Ray had been sober for three years and was at his peak. When he played that night he had all of us standing there with our jaws dropped,” Clapton told Jay Taysom of Far Out Magazine in the January 2022 issue. “I mean, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan and Buddy Guy were just watching in awe. There was no one better than him on this planet. Really unbelievable.”
So, to recap: Jimmie flies to Wisconsin to watch his little brother play on the same bill with Eric Clapton; Stevie Ray wows even the guitar greats, including Jimmie; Jimmie gives up his seat to Stevie; Jimmie goes back to Texas, where he is called a day later; Jimmie returns to Wisconsin to identify his brother’s body.
Prior to the dates with Clapton, Stevie and Jimmie had been working on an album together – the very first, called “Family Style.” All of the songs were in post-recording stage, meaning the finishing touches were being applied before releasing the album.
“You know, the record company called and said they wanted to go ahead and release it,” Jimmie recalled. “I told them ‘well, we can’t promote it with a concert cause Stevie’s dead and I can’t do it without him.”
The song “Tick Tock” was released September 25, 1990 – not even a full month after Stevie’s death. Jimmie said he had written the song in his garage one day, while thinking it was about time the brothers recorded together.
Back in 1990, no one spoke of “survivor’s guilt” or “PTSD.” I’m sure Jimmie probably suffered from both. “I didn’t really do much of anything for a while,” he said.
It was three years later that Jimmie and Eric Clapton were, once again, standing on the edge of a stage together. In 1993 Eric invited Jimmie to join him at Royal Albert Hall in London. At the time he didn’t realize that Jimmie hadn’t performed since Stevie’s death.
As a testament of his fortitude, Jimmie hasn’t stopped performing since. This September, Jimmie will again join Eric for a series of five concerts in North America: Pittsburgh, PA; Toronto, ON; St, Louis, MO; St Paul, MN; and Denver, CO. Tickets go on sale March 31.
Lot’s of stories and documentaries have been written about Stevie Ray. They are full of nice quotes from people who knew him, and some who didn’t really know him. Last week a new show premiered about both Stevie AND Jimmie. The producer, Kirby Warnock, is a past editor of BUDDY Magazine, from back in the “Neverland 80s decade.”
The show opened for one night only at the historic Texas Theater in the Dallas district of Oak Cliff. Every seat was full, and Jimmie was there, seated with the crowd. Afterward, he and Kirby stood on the stage and took questions from the audience.
Most of the questions were about his relationship with Stevie – “did they fight a lot? (not really)” and “where is Stevie’s guitar? (in a bank vault).”
As he was coming down off the stage, I seized the moment to speak with Jimmie. What came out of my mouth was something that no born and bred Texas rocker would ever dare say out loud…but I confessed it to the one person on this earth that probably wouldn’t be too upset about it.
I bravely looked at Jimmie Vaughan and said “In the 80’s you were my favorite Vaughan brother.” He didn’t believe me, so I said it again, “I loved the Fabulous Thunderbirds! Wrap it Up!” He grinned and gave me one of those half-hugs you give people you don’t really know very well. We talked a little bit longer before he was ushered to the lobby to sign more autographs.
I asked him how he felt about the show, and about the book Texas Flood, written by Alan Paul. His answer has haunted me all week: “Imagine if you had a little sister, and she died, and everybody was saying how much they knew her…you know, what are you gonna do?”
Of course, no one knew Stevie Ray like Jimmie did. And Stevie Ray couldn’t have a better steward of his legend.
So, keep on rocking, Vaughan Brother #1. You’re a legend in your own right, and you’re fabulous.
Follow the link to stream Brother’s In Blues: The Vaughan Brothers, by Buddy Magazine’s own Kirby Warnock!