- Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
- Texas Flood (Legacy Edition)
If you don’t already own a copy of Texas Flood, the debut album by legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble, then you should. Once this album was released in 1983 the world of blues guitar – hell, just the world of guitar – was never the same again. Vaughan, bassist Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton created a sound that was bigger than what any three-piece band should be able to create – not in terms of volume, but in terms of depth and groove. If you had to call them something, you could call them bluesmen, but they were really a trio of explorers, led by Vaughan – and a cooler white man never walked the face of this planet.
With John Hammond on board as executive producer – himself a legend in the music world –_Texas Flood_ found the trio within the four walls of a studio, but not contained by them. You’ll have to work hard to find a more confident-sounding debut album by a band of any genre. There was no way of knowing in 1983 that Vaughan only had seven more years to live before dying in a helicopter crash in August of 1990; but the force of his playing on Texas Flood might lead one to believe that he knew he only had a limited amount of time to play his music.
But say you’ve owned a copy of Texas Flood for years and know it well. There’s still a reason to lay hands to the Legacy Edition: Disc 2.
The date was October 20, 1983 and Layton, Shannon, and Vaughan were playing a modest-sized venue in Philadelphia called Ripley’s Music Hall. The tape was rolling that night to capture the trio’s set for a King Biscuit Flower Hour radio broadcast; and what you hear has never been officially released until now.
The set launches hard out of the gate with “Testify” – and if the album cut felt urgent, this version feels explosive and wild. Listen to Layton’s killer drum work – a combination of fierce bass pedal and top o’ the kit magic that never settles right on the beat and is classic for that very reason. Meanwhile, Tommy Shannon’s bass is hanging tight on the rear bumper of Vaughan’s Strat; the two move as one, ripping up the wide-open stretches, barrel-assing sideways into the curvy parts, roaring up the inclines and letting it fly down the backside without offering even a tap on the brakes.
The dust is still swirling from the crash-landing of “Testify” when the trio takes off on the cool strut of “So Excited”. They run the gamut with the song from full roar to hushed whisper – there’s a passage that Vaughan will revisit later in his career on “Cold Shot” – and back to shake-the-bottles-off-the-shelf barroom blues.
And then there’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. On one hand, it’s nothing short of blasphemous to suggest that someone outplays Jimi Hendrix on one of his own songs, but …
Hendrix broke the ground, for sure – the original “Voodoo Child” on Electric Ladyland was what you’d hear if a Strat started talking in tongues. Vaughan and Double Trouble slowed it down a whisker, raunched it up, and then commenced to play the hell out of it every time they tackled it.
The version here is surprisingly early in the setlist (three songs in) for something so powerful. If Jimi’s vocal delivery was a lesson in extra-terrestrial cool, then Stevie Ray’s is that same man from beyond, pushed to the edge and sweat-soaked. Meanwhile, Layton and Shannon don’t do anything over-the-top – but what they do is perfect. Their unshakeable grip on the song’s walloping groove is what enables Vaughan to go exploring. He works and tests the rhythm; he coaxes squeals, wails, and moans out of his guitar; he plays it gritty; he plays it sweet; he plays it like he loves it; and he plays it like it’s going to be the last song ever played in the world.
There’s a moment at the 2:20 mark when Vaughan goes into a rapid flail, sounding like he’s going to rip everything – strings, saddle, bridge plate, tremolo arm, everything – off the face of his Strat. He goes at it ferociously, then pulls the whole damn planet sideways with a wild-ass bend – before slamming back into the tune’s bayou-on-Venus groove. Those dozen seconds encapsulate the mix of terrifying chaos and spot-on precision of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The Ripley’s performance is filled with classics: the amazing rhythm-as-lead/lead-as-rhythm workouts of “Love Struck Baby”; the magnificent slow burns of “Tin Pan Alley” and “Texas Flood”; and the playful funk of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. The night closes with one more Hendrixian workout – the grace and majesty of “Little Wing” leading into an amp-torturing “Third Stone From The Sun”. It’s hard to imagine anyone having enough energy left to work off the stage, let alone speak, but Vaughan sounds like a man sitting on top of the world as he introduces the band and himself.
“Thank you so very, very much,” he tells the crowd before they leave the stage.
No, Stevie – thank you.
Brian Robbins sits on top of his own world at www.brian-robbins.com