Saturday, August 28, 2010

Birth of a Bluz Dude

Growing up, I had only a passing acquaintance with the blues.  Mom used to play “BB King – Live at the Cook County Jail” from time to time, and I liked that because there was that funny line in “How Blue Can You Get?”

I bought you a $10 dinner
You said ‘thanks for the snack.’
I gave you seven children,
And now you wanna give’em back”.

I liked the Blues Brothers when they came out, even though they were kind of jokey, although there was no joke about their backing band.

But I’ll never forget the day the blues jumped up and bit me.

It was 1983 and I was a senior in college.  I was puttering around up in my bedroom, with the radio tuned to the local FM rock station.  Suddenly I heard this huge noise, a great opening guitar flourish followed by a muscular, walking bass line. 

I snapped my head around toward the radio and thought, “What the hell is that?”  It was unlike anything else that station ever played.  I loved it by the end of the first minute.

Have you heard about a love,
Give sight to the blind.
My baby’s love cause the sun to shine.
She’s my sweet little thang…
She’s my pride and joy.
She’s my sweet little baby,
I’m her little lover boy.”

That was my introduction to Stevie Ray Vaughan and his first hit, Pride and Joy.  I hadn’t heard a guitar played like that… no power chords, but definitely a powerful guitar.

The next time I had to work at the record store, I found the new Stevie Ray cassette and bought it.  After quitting time, I slapped it in the car stereo and headed for home.

Holy crap, he played like a man possessed.  I was especially floored by the instrumentals, particularly “Rude Mood”.  It was so fast and so clear and so unlike anything else I’d ever heard.  My musical world had just been turned on its ear.

When I got home, my mom and dad were sitting out on the swing in the back yard.  I ran back and said, “You have GOT to hear this!”

I ran into The Barn, grabbed the stereo speakers off the wall and propped them up in the windows.  Then I put the tape on and the yard filled with the sound of the blues.

The parents were suitably impressed and also became fans.

From there, I began to do a lot of rummaging through the blues section at the record store.  Another guy that worked there knew something about blues guitar and began showing me some other guys…

If you like Stevie Ray, try…” Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan became new favorites.  But to me, SRV was always king.  I bought every album he released for the next couple years.

I remember working in the store one day and the manager was putting on a new record.  Within about 10 seconds, I knew it was the new Stevie Ray.  The cut was “Scuttle Buttin’” a fast and furious shuffle that opened his 2nd album, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather”, with a bang.

In October of 1986, Stevie Ray came to town to play a show on my birthday.  He was touring on his 3rd album, Soul to Soul.  This was his first album and tour that included a piano player.

Up until that night, I’d never seen him play.  I’d only ever seen one music video, the one for “Cold Shot”, which was great, (and very funny) but didn’t really highlight his playing.  Once I saw, I was dumbfounded.  What a show… what a showman.  I was just slayed.
Taken from the 2nd row of the 2nd tier.  We were actually much closer than the picture indicates.

He opened up with “Scuttle Buttin’”, which he melded right into the wah-wah pedal instrumental, “Say What”.  He played his ass off all night, often times playing behind his head or behind his back.  It was unbelievable.  And his new keyboard guy was just stellar.  His organ solo during “Say What” and piano solo during “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” were spot on.
Soon after, he did a concert on MTV, playing on a New Orleans riverboat.  I recorded it off the TV and I swear I wore that tape out, just trying to watch his hands. 

Stevie Ray Vaughan changed everything for me.  The blues became my primary music.  Once I began to manage stores, I would make it my priority to set up a respectable blues section, especially in the big freestanding store I managed on the east side of Cleveland.  I tell you, I rocked that place with the blues on Friday night, often to the chagrin of my staff, who just wanted to hear Guns & Roses or Bobby Brown or Ice-T.

Then one August day in 1990, just after I had moved to Albany NY to run one of our company’s best mall stores, I got a phone call with some disturbing news.

There was a helicopter crash in the hills of Wisconsin.  Stevie Ray Vaughan was among the dead.  That was August 27, 1990, 20 years ago yesterday.  And today is 20 years since I got that phone call.

I was crestfallen.  I don’t think I’d felt like that about the death of someone outside my circle since 1972 when my childhood idol, Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente, was killed.  The only upside is that when I first got that call, I was told that Eric Clapton was killed too, which turned out to be untrue.

Thankfully, Stevie Ray’s music lives on.  You can trawl though You Tube videos and find a treasure trove full of material.  His influence has been felt throughout the music industry, although if you listen to the radio now, it might be hard to spot.  But back in the 80s, white boys all across the country picked up guitars and started playing the blues.

I may not have been able to actually play, but someone has to be in the audience.  That would be me.

Rest in peace, Stevie Ray.  You’ll never be forgotten.  You’ll always be the guy that turned this regular dude, into a bluzdude.
By all means, play this video... Stevie Ray at his finest!


Cassie said...

Isn't it the best when all it takes is one person to change it all?

bluzdude said...

Stevie Ray was my "ground zero" for the blues.

IKNAB said...

I think it was Denis Leary who said "Stevie Ray Vaughan is dead, and we can't get Jon Bon Jovi onto a f***ing helicopter!"


bluzdude said...

That was one of my favorite lines from Leary's "No Cure for Cancer".

"Get on that helicopter, Jon, there's a hairdresser on there, yeah yeah."

Mary Ann said...

Safe on, Stevie Ray Indigo tears from a listening sky

Jessica R. said...

My husband has always been a huge blues and SRV fan. In fact, he's the one who really introduced me to the music. Seems like we make a pilgrimage to some type of blusie event every time we're in Austin. Mark even had us stagger through the 100+ degree temps one day to find the SRV statue on the river front!

Mary Ann said...


When night falls ever
darker blue

my eyes say this
is the heart sound
when you play

The Sky Is Crying.

Bluedark deepens
echoes your guitar.

stilladog said...

For me it was Duane Allman & The Allman Brothers Band that first struck my own personal blues chord. One Way Out and Statesboro Blues got the blues hook in me so bad circa 1971-72 I can't shake it. Nor would I want to.

Caused me to start exploring the people who wrote those songs. Just who is Sonny Boy Williamson anyway? And then you find out there are two of them! Then who is McKinley Morganfield? Oh, that's the same as Muddy Waters. And then you start to listen to the original artists. Then ZZ Top came along with that speeded up version of blues called boogie. And Johnny Winter.

By the time SRV came out I was already deep in the blues / blues-rock and my current favorite at that time was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. But Stevie Ray really changed the landscape. I remember hearing of his death from my buddy Andre and we both sat down and drank a shot of Jack Daniels to him.

I saw SRV twice. Once on a too hot day in Baltimore when Stevie was deep in the grips of drug addiction and he only played for 45 minutes. Then about 3 years later, and only a few months before he died, at Duquesne U. in Pittsburgh with Jeff Beck. That show was teriffic!

20 years ago... think I'm going downstairs and have a shot of Jack.

Cher Duncombe said...

Now we know how you got the name "bluzdude." Awesome!

bluzdude said...

Jessice R(abbit),
I would have been right there with your husband, looking for the Statue of Stevie Ray.

Mary Ann,
I considered using some of your SRV poem, but I knew it would have taken me at least an hour to find it in my archives. Thanks for bringing it to the party.

SRV and Jeff Beck? Must have been a hell of a show. Stevie Ray must not have been coked up when I saw him... he was blistering!

It still took almost another 10 years after Stevie Ray's death before I actually created the moniker. I needed a chat room name that summed up who I was. Took me about 10 seconds to decide. Had a much better ring than "Random Goofy-looking Bald Dude."

Unapologetically Mundane said...

I don't know how long you've had it, because I usually read you via Google Reader, but I like your new site design SO MUCH MORE. (I still want you to install IntenseDebate, though! You will love it, I swear, and it takes moments to do.)

I always say I love the blues, but I'm talking about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Black Keys. Have you listened to them, or are they too hipster for you?

bluzdude said...

I've had the new layout for about a month. You can be forgiven for not noticing... I believe you were out on vacation for most of the time. I hated all the wasted space on the edges, so now I'm loving all the horizontal space to write in. Plus, I can post larger pictures. It's WIN all around.

I've never heard of those groups, so they're probably too hipster (or just hip) for me.

Jennifer Juniper said...

I had no idea you were that big of a fan.. I'll see if I can dig up an old picture or two for you.

bluzdude said...

I was hoping you'd see this post, being that I'm talking about your relative and all...

But yes, I'm that big of a fan.

stilladog said...

Beck opened the show and was great. Stevie Ray came on and the place went wild! He was completely off drugs by that time. Looked heavier and healthier for sure. And sounded the best I'd ever heard him.

To end the show Stevie Ray call Jeff out to jam. They went into about a 10 minute version of "Going Down" which, despite being covered by many, was recorded in the definitive version by the Jeff Beck Group.

It was unbelievable seeing my two favorite living (Roy Buchanan had passed away about 18 months before) guitarists playing together live.

Anonymous said...

I'm a SRV fan, too, though my taste in music is all over the place. I love Santana for his guitar playing, too. I've never been a die-hard fan of just one genre, though, and I'm definitely not a purist about music. In fact, yes, I'll admit it, I really LIKE Bon Jovi. Sorry! Just proves people don't have to have everything in common to have a decent conversation, right? :)

bluzdude said...

Truth be told, I like Bon Jovi just fine… I’ve seen him on concert twice, (although the first time, he was opening for the Scorpions and no one knew who he was).

When Leary came up with that line, it was the middle of BJ’s peak years, when he was all over MTV and seemingly on every radio station.

One thing that working in the music biz taught me was that there is a heck of a lot of different kind of music out there. I like a lot of different stuff… different styles for different moods. But the rhythm of the blues is what speaks to my soul.

Bachelor Girl said...

Oh, Bluz, I LOVE this story! It may be my favorite yet!

bluzdude said...

Thanks, BG!

Gina said...

We love SRV in this house. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed listening in to a conversation between my son and his friend: son:"You wanna hear some Stevie Ray?" friend:"Who?" "Stevie Ray Vaughn." "Never heard of him." "Seriously?? Oh. My. GOD!"

bluzdude said...

And the Legend continues...

Quality music transcends generations.

I have plans to drop some on my nephew in another year or two. First I'm letting the AC/DC take hold. I'm just hoping Catholic school doesn't drain it out of him.

Jennifer Juniper said...

Its a great post. I never met Stevie but my older sister once went on a drug run for him.

bluzdude said...

Such a shame there were those years wasted with drugs.