Austin, TX’s Pride & Joy: “Rise of a Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983″

By on August 24, 2017

Rise of a Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983 chronicles the early part of the Austin, Texas-based guitarist’s incredible career, as well as providing us with a concise overview of Texas blues history. You can find this two-hour film streaming in our collection of music documentaries over on Night Flight Plus.

Despite having a relatively short solo career — just seven years — Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most influential guitarists in the revival of blues in the 1980s.

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Vaughan has long been singled out as a passionate, energetic guitarist whose awe-inspiring technical virtuosity so impressed those who saw him perform live — such as David Bowie, who brought him on board to record guitar parts for his fifteenth studio album, Let’s Dance — that decades after his death, Vaughan is still being revered as one of the best blues guitarists of the modern era.

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The documentary delves into Vaughan’s earliest musical influences, his first recordings and his earliest bands, which we see through rare, archival film footage and exclusive interviews — including several archival interviews with Vaughan himself — and those with some of his friends and musical colleagues, who offer up a variety of perspectives.

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We hear important context and background from historians and biographers Alan Govenar, Craig Hopkins, Joe Nick Patoski (the famed Texas music writer who co-authored the SRV biography Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire in 1994; he also directed a Doug Sahm documentary, Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove), and UK rock scribe Nigel Williamson.

We also hear from music biz insiders, include booking agents and managers Alex Hodges and Joe Priesnitz, record company exec Jack Chase, radio DJ Redbeard, Angela Strehli, Paul Ray, Marc Benno, Denny Freeman and Janna Lapidus LeBlanc, SRV’s fiancée at the time of his death (he died on August 27, 1990, at age thirty-five, in a helicopter crash).

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Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy, 1983 (photo by Lynn Goldsmith)

Stephen “Stevie” Ray Vaughan was born on October 3, 1954, in Dallas, Texas. He began playing the guitar at age seven, inspired by his older brother, Jimmie Vaughan.

We’re reminded of their musical influences, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and T-Bone Walker, the latter also hailing from Oak Cliff, the blue collar, racially diverse side of Dallas where Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan grew up.

Read more about Stevie Ray Vaughan and Rise of a Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983 below.

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The film explains how the Vaughan brothers were drawn to the blues via Texas-based radio stations, and how they were also drawn to British Invasion bands, stirring their interest in the electric guitar.

SRV ended up becoming an underage guitar prodigy, playing in Dallas nightclubs and soon making his name on the local blues circuit with the Brooklyn Underground, The Southern Distributor, Liberation, and Cast of Thousands.

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SRV dropped out of high school in 1971, and the following year moved with his band the Blackbirds to Austin, Texas. The state capital was just then becoming a mecca for musicians and offered more opportunities to hone their skills.

SRV’s Blackbirds were soon one of the top bands in the town, along with a band called Cracker Jack and his brother Jimmie’s band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Vaughan eventually broke up the Blackbirds and ending up playing with a variety of other Austin-based bands, including Marc Benno’s The Nightcrawlers (their vocalist Doyle Bramhall tutored Vaughan in the craft of songwriting), and in 1975, he joined Paul Ray and the Cobras, where SRV learned to step up his onstage presence.

In late 1977, SRV formed his own band, Triple Threat Revue — with singer Lou Ann Barton, bassist W. C. Clark, and drummer Fredde Pharaoh — before making lineup changes (drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon) and re-naming them Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.

It was with this band that he finally broke through in 1982, appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where he met Jackson Browne (interviewed here) and David Bowie.

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The documentary explores how music biz legend Jerry Wexler had suggested to the festival organizer to add SRV’s band — they were unsigned and virtually unknown outside of Texas at the time — for their blues night on July 17, 1982, calling him “a jewel, one of those rarities who comes along once in a lifetime.”

Bowie — who thought Vaughan was the best guitarist since he had seen Jeff Beck in the 1960s — was soon brought on board to record guitar parts for Bowie’s new album, 1983’s Let’s Dance.

That’s his guitar solo you hear at the end of the title track, “Let’s Dance,” which shot to #1 in both the UK and the U.S., but Vaughan declined Bowie’s offer to join his touring band, deciding the time was right to focus on his own career instead.

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By the time EMI had released Bowie’s Let’s Dance, SRV had a contract with Epic Records, and his debut album, Texas Flood, would end up making him the biggest blues star of the 1980s.

That same year he also shared the stage with one of his most important inspirations and musical heroes, guitarist Albert King.

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Rise Of A Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan – 1954-1983 was produced and directed by Tom O’Dell for the UK production company Sexy Intellectual, distributed across the pond by Prism Films, and provided to Night Flight by our content partner, MVD.

Also, check out the companion documentary Lonestar: Stevie Ray Vaughn 1984-1990.

Watch Rise of a Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983 in our collection of music documentaries over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.