Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Stevie Ray Vaughan 1983
Not many of my friends were that familiar with Stevie Ray Vaughan when I photographed him playing in 1983. He was still known more as a white blues guitarist from Texas, not as the great fluid sparkling electric superstar he'd become before he died. But when I went to shoot him, my music wordsmith and concert partner-in-crime-friend Kelley Bass knew very well who he was. We were both jazzed, even if it was a show at the old barn-like Hall of Industry at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.
I'd seen Stevie Ray's brother Jimmy Lee Vaughan (see my earlier post) play many times in Austin with his band the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Through that exposure I learned of Stevie Ray before the world at large. But it was 1983 and the peak of MTV's influence on the charts and the tastes of music fans. So, great as his fan's knew him to be, he was relegated to opening for The Call. Their album "modern romans' was on the charts and heavy rotation at MTV with the song "When The Walls Came Down".
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were about to launch large, partly because of the about-to-be-released David Bowie album "Let's Dance". Stevie Ray did much of the searing guitar work on that release to great critical aclaim.
Meanwhile, in the Hall Of Industry, an old metal butler building with crummy sound, about 150 people gathered for the show. Thinking back, I can't decide if the crowd was there more for Stevie Ray or The Call. Stage Lighting was nearly non-existant. The stage itself rose only about 18 inches off the festival seating floor. With no chairs, everyone there just crowded up against the lip of the stage. I imagine most of the crowd wasn't more than ten or fifteen feet from SRV. Anyone who didn't know who he was quickly realized they were seeing something special.Stevie Ray and the band just walked out, picked up their instruments and started. SRV was wearing a pair of jeans, black sleeveless T-Shirt, boots and a great black hat with a band of silver medallions. He blazed, playing behind his head, behind his back, with his teeth, even on his back. He was working so hard he must have lost 10 pounds by the end of the set. Most of us could reach out and just touch him... or could have if our dropped jaws hadn't been in the way.
I was shooting with kodak Tri-X 400 ISO black and white film with a Nikon F2 and FM2. I would guess my lenses were a 24mm 2.8 and a 85mm 1.8. I was so close that the wide lenses were almost the only lens I could use yet there wasn't a way to back up.
We saw something that night that those before us probably knew but was a revelation that night in Little Rock. I was impressed that The Call even came out, let alone gave such a great performance as well. Lead Singer Michael Been was a class act..and brave to follow SRV. I did have another chance to photograph Stevie Ray shortly before his death when he played a double bill with Joe Cocker. But that's another story.
Also, there is a great Musicologist who has just published a complete Stevie Ray Vaughan chronicle. His name is Craig Hopkins and he's put a herculean effort, working with SRV's family, into documenting SRV's life and work. If you're a fan, you need that book. Order it from StevieRay.com.