By Phyllis Pollack
The tragedy of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death on the 27th of this month in 1990, twenty years ago, the result of a plane crash during a tour with Eric Clapton, ruthlessly ended the career of the highly beloved and revered virtuoso. In commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of his death, his record label Epic Records, in conjunction with Sony’s Legacy Recordings, has reissued a special package that serves as a musical reminder of Vaughan’s immense prowess as both a guitarist and a performer. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s 1984 recording of the platinum-selling blues masterpiece ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ is the centerpiece of the newly released double-disc set that offers even more to love on its originally released counterpart. With sixteen previously unreleased tracks, this set of Double Trouble and double whammys is forceful collectors item for any blues fan, as well as anyone that has a love for great guitar playing.
‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ was the second album featuring the revered guitarist with Double Trouble, comprised of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton. Never wasting a note, the trio that embodied a holy trinity of the blues, easily became one of the most respected bands to emerge during that time period.
The generous number of unreleased recordings on this Expanded Epic/Legacy set are comprised of 13 live songs, recorded by SRV and Double Trouble at the Specturm in Montreal, Canada on August 17, 1984, plus three of them newly-discovered studio outtakes.
The studio outtakes include “The Sky Is Crying,” “Boot Hill” and “Stang’s Swang.”
I had interviewed Stevie Ray Vaughan a few months after the release of some of what is heard on this album, while he was working on what would be his next album, ‘Soul To Soul.’ Vaughan told me that preparing for releasing the next album “was very emotional” for him. He related to me that the death of his close friend Charley Wirz, who owned the Dallas Texas Charley’s Guitar shop, took away part of his soul. As he spoke to me, Vaughan struck me as being an extremely spiritual person. At times, he used subtle metaphysical overtones as he conversed with me. Overly modest, he commented to me that his next release would be better vocally. He told me, “Listen to it. I finally learned how to sing.” I was stunned by this revelation that he thought ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ wasn’t already perfection. Vocals included. I have never changed my mind about that conviction.
‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ will long weather the test of time, as lightening still strikes all over this album.
The album was recorded in January 1984 at the Power Station in New York for Epic Records, executive produced by John Hammond. Produced by Double Trouble, Richard Mullen and Jim Capfer, Wirz is one of those thanked on it. The previously unreleased alternate take of “Stang’s Swang” is believed to be one of those on which he used the custom made white guitar Wirz made for him, as opposed to the original album’s version, which used a Johnny Smith Gibson, named for the accomplished jazz guitarist who designed it. For a while, Smith also owned a guitar store, one in Colorado. The arch-top guitar was introduced by Gibson in 1965, and twenty years later, Gibson introduced an anniversary edition. Vaughan would use that Johnny Smith model again on ‘Soul To Soul’s’ instrumental eulogy “Gone Home.”
Vaughan’s older brother Jimmie, who had already formed the Fabulous Thunderbirds, throws down in the Vaughan signature instrumental “Scuttle Buttin” and the straight-ahead Guitar Slim blues number “The Things (That) I Used To Do.” When speaking to me about his career, Stevie Ray credited his brother as being one of the blues players that “set the door open for me to walk through.” Even with own immeasurable talent, Stevie had good reason to look up to his older brother, who has an enviable history of his own.
The album’s opening track, the instrumental “Scuttle Buttin’” quickly became one the songs that represented cool in the 80’s.
The track “Cold Shot” has always had its commercial appeal, and its music video is nothing less than cute (and a bit more than realistic for a lot of obsessed guitarists of both sexes). Yet he turned around, flaunting the cajones to cover Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary and timeless “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” while including some of his own style, resulting in a version further catapulting Vaughan into virtuoso legendary status.
The album’s title track shows Vaughan’s acumen with funkiness and rhythm, and that being shrewd on the guitar isn’t just about playing leads, although he knocked it out there on the track, as well.
“Tin Pan Alley,” a Robert Geddins composition, sounds as if it had been written for Vaughan, himself. Listening to Vaughan’s vocals on it, 25 years later, I still have a hard time understanding his commentary about his vocals. The subtleties encased in Vaughan’s playing here prove that taste is far more important and relevant than flash, and it certainly gets the point across far more effectively, as Vaughan has shown here.
“Honey Bee” is arguably the most rock-oriented track on the album. Meanwhile, Vaughan shows his versatility with the blissful jazz track “Stan’s Swang,” a song he penned, which gets some beautiful treatment via tones from the Johnny Smith Gibson he used for it.
The bonus tracks on the set from “The Sky is Crying” and the previous expanded version of “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” were again remastered for this release.
Among the bonus tracks is Vaughan’s version of the lyrically sinister “Boot Hill,” a song that was also recorded by Johnny Winter. A composition that according to the disc’s liner notes, no one knows who authored it, is an artful work. It should be noted that blues historians generally attribute the song to Sly Williams, which may have been a pseudonym for the mysterious new Orleans guitarist with a sketchy history that no one has been able to successfully reconstruct. Some believe him to be Jesse Allen, who was legally confined to several minor record companies during the ‘50’s. Many artists that were underpaid by unscrupulous labels often recorded under various assumed monikers in order to temporarily escape their financially unjust and confining contracts.
Another bonus track, the previously unreleased Vaughan recording of Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” is attributed to James, Morgan Robinson and Clarence L. Lewis, gets an equally classic rebirth from Vaughan.
The live performance disc in the set is from the second show SRV and DT played that evening. No one sounds worse for the wear.
The thunderous applause during the live concert disc in ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ sends a message that rains volumes.
If any artist’s musical legacy should be preserved, Stevie Ray Vaughan will long remain high on that distinctive list.
Watch a video of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).”