As Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton told me of first experiencing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s extraordinary guitar talent from outside an Austin nightclub, I had to smile. Like Chris, I had not actually seen the young blues guitarist either the first time I heard him play live, but the memory is burned into my mind. It was February 4, 1984 and I was part of the live network broadcast interviews of the myriad of performers at the annual Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam backstage at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. Over ten years the Volunteer Jam had grown into an annual pilgrimage by the biggest names then in American rock music, featuring in one night the Charlie Daniels Band and guests including the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers Band, the Outlaws, plus Billy Joel, Emmylou Harris, Ted Nugent, and James Brown!
Now this young Texas trio, who had defied all musical trends in 1983 with their critically-received debut album Texas Flood , had just taken the stage midway through the star-studded evening. From my vantage point at the broadcast table in the backstage area separated by a wall directly behind the stage, we could not see the band or the 10,000 fans packed into the auditorium, but we could hear this huge sound. Slowly, as the wah-wah staccato of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar beat out a march duplicated by the bass drum, whispers of astonishment began to ripple through the backstage crowd of musicians and media guests: “He’s doing Hendrix ! “ And then the realization hit me. ”He’s doing ‘Voodoo Child ‘! “ I muttered aloud in astonishment to no one in particular.
You have to understand that prior to this night, no one did Hendrix, for two very simple reasons : 1) 99.8% of the world’s guitar players were not proficient enough to play his stuff, and 2) the precious few that actually could would have been publicly condemned for rock sacrilege. So I’m thinking, “Oh great, this new guy Stevie Ray Vaughan has decided to commit career suicide here at the Super Bowl of Southern Rock in front of his peers, the national press, ten thousand in the audience , and untold millions listening live on radio. Then he’ll walk off stage and straight to our broadcast table for a live interview, and I’ll have to pretend that we all did not just witness musical blasphemy.”
Except that’s not what happened. That night, that stage, that performance changed so much. Sure, it introduced Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble to the national spotlight in a most memorable way. It literally introduced him to me later that night, which would serve me well when I moved to his Dallas hometown ten days later where we continued a professional relationship until his tragic death August 27, 1990. But what that performance taught me was that rock critics, record and radio execs, and other media “gatekeepers” cannot limit music, cannot determine which are sacred cows, cannot anoint only certain musicians worthy or intentions pure. And even though these self-appointed (and self-important) “experts” will try endlessly to convince us otherwise, great music is boundless, and to attempt to limit it rather than celebrate it is to miss the point of music altogether. -Redbeard