Stevie Ray will never be my idol. Coming of age musically 20 years after his passing, he always seemed like a poor man’s Jimi Hendrix, a great Texas blues guitarist for sure but with little original thought in his composition or production. Still, it was always apparent to me the reverence the greater blues community had towards Vaughan, and I would never be able to dismiss that. If Buddy Guy and Albert King had such respect for him, who am I to question them. So, when I first heard an oral history of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble was being released, and when I read an excerpt about his conflict with Bowie during the build up to the Let’s Dance world tour, I realized this was a great way for me to better understand the significance of Austin’s saint.
The new book Texas Flood achieves this partially. With in depth research — both in the form of the authors interviewing surviving players and archival digging — Andy Paul and Andy Aledort paint a vivid picture of the life of the man who made Austin Texas’ music capitol. The influences from his youngest years, the struggle he went through off the ground and off cocaine, and the people who brought him to prominence, are all passionately discussed in this book. Anyone who is an existing Stevie Ray fan needs to read this. And Stevie lived an amazing life with some amazing stories. From his childhood being raised amidst Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys to Jackson Browne loaning him an LA studio to cut his Texas Flood album to his friendship with his childhood idol Albert King, Vaughan’s life is filled with colorful characters and colorful stories. The stories of him living off cocaine are especially amusing (since he did after all get sober), such as his dedication to thick strings resulting in him getting holes in his fingertips and him grafting skin off of the palm of his strumming hand to keep his fingers together (after he got sober, he reduced his string diameter).
But this is more a book about people than it is about music. While Paul and Aledort will go in depth into Vaughan’s influences and style, but will never really explain what set him apart from every other 50s blues revival act of the 1980s beyond Albert King’s remark that “he could actually do it.” Upon the book’s conclusion, I had a great understanding of why Vaughan was so well respected by people he knew, and had some understanding of why audiences adored him (although no one can truly understand the power of Vaughan’s performances if they didn’t see him, and being born 5 years after his death I missed the boat on that), but still remained mystified as to why musicians who had neither seen nor new him personally adored him. His legacy is clear but the greatness of his art itself is not. Often people in the book like the members of Double Trouble would say things like “you just gotta listen to it and it’s clear,” but to me it’s still not. I would’ve liked for the authors to explain Vaughan’s artistic significance a little more. I know, as a music writer, it’s hard to walk that line between writing about the people and writing about the music, and you’ll lose a lot of readers when you dive too deep into the sounds themselves (I’m sure I do on my song dissections), but a little more on the music itself would’ve gone a long way for me.
Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan is available now through Amazon or Audible.
Since this is going up on Halloween, I will sign off by saying may the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughan haunt the fingers of every blues guitarist reading this.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.