Blues guitarist par excellence Jimmie Vaughan turned 70 earlier this year, and The Last Music Company wasn't about to let the milestone go unnoticed. The label has released the appropriately-titled box set The Jimmie Vaughan Story, boasting 5 CDs and over six hours of music chronicling Vaughan's career up to the present day. The collection is available in two formats: a large-scale box which adds a 12-inch LP of Jimmie's 2001 album Do You Get the Blues?, two 45 RPM vinyl singles, a catalogue of the artist's classic car collection, and an autographed print of the box's cover. The set is not being issued digitally, but is available in a smaller edition that contains the five compact discs but lacks the vinyl and other goodies. Both versions include a stunning 240-page hardcover book that makes for essential reading while listening.
The older brother of late legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie made a name for himself on the fertile Austin, Texas scene. Inspired by the likes of B.B. King, Little Walter, Freddie King, and Muddy Waters, the Dallas native began playing guitar while in junior high school. As a teenager, he was successful enough to score an opening slot for Jimi Hendrix. The story goes that he lent the guitar god his wah-wah pedal which Hendrix promptly broke; Jimi gave his own pedal to Jimmie in return. The young bluesman played in bands including The Pendulums, The Penetrations, and The Chessmen, learning his craft by playing popular covers in addition to the blues he loved. He formed The Storm, later just Storm, with a rotating cast of friends including bassist Paul Ray and drummer Doyle Bramhall. But his next group would take him to the next level: The Fabulous Thunderbirds. (The book reprints some early ads billing the group simply as the Thunderbirds, but the "Fabulous" part was added to avoid confusion with another similarly-named band.)
Though the line-up of the group would turn out to be a fluid one, Vaughan slung his guitar alongside vocalist/harmonica player/songwriter Kim Wilson until 1989. The Fabulous Thunderbirds became the de facto house band at the newly-opened Austin hotspot Antone's, opening for inspirations such as Buddy Guy, Albert King, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. The first two discs of The Jimmie Vaughan Story chronicle his journey with the Thunderbirds, albeit out of chronological order. Culled from the band's recordings for Takoma, Chrysalis, and CBS, the first CD is a straight reissue of Repertoire Records' 2013 compilation The Bad and Best of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It samples their swaggering blend of blues, rock-and-roll, rockabilly, and country sounds. "[The Europeans] called it American roots music," Vaughan remembers in his liner notes. "We said, 'Call it anything you want. Blues-rock, funk-blues, whatever you want.' People would call us a Chicago band because we had a harmonica. But all the harmonica players in Chicago came from Mississippi or Louisiana. Or Memphis..." The classic line-up was rounded out with Keith Ferguson on bass and Fran Christina on drums.
While Kim Wilson penned most of the original material, the band also made room for classic blues covers. They attracted the attention of producers including Memphis veteran Terry Manning and pub-rock stalwarts Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, with whom the Thunderbirds toured as openers for Rockpile. Among the tracks here is, naturally, "Tuff Enough," the slick 1986 top ten hit that turned The Fabulous Thunderbirds into a "one-hit wonder," and the driving "Powerful Stuff," the 1989 single from the best-selling Cocktail soundtrack. Even with their embrace of glossier, more overtly commercial production as the eighties wore on, the recordings made by the Thunderbirds remain fresh, exuberant, and yes, fabulous.
A number of previously unreleased tracks from the group premiere on the second disc, including a quartet co-produced by Atlantic Records' Joel Dorn and famed songwriter/blues aficionado Doc Pomus as well as live tracks recorded at Antone's in 1979. The Dorn/Pomus tracks (including a torrid reading of the Willie Dixon standard "I Can't Quit You Baby") experimented with a bigger sound including brass while still building the sound around Vaughan's scorching licks.
Powerful Stuff turned out to be Jimmie's final album with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He jumped into a long-awaited collaboration with his younger brother Stevie Ray as The Vaughan Brothers. ("Everybody was pissed off at me in the Thunderbirds because I wanted to go do an album with Stevie," Jimmie writes.) Stevie brought on board producer Nile Rodgers with whom he'd worked on David Bowie's Let's Dance. The groundbreaking CHIC leader who'd worked with artists as disparate as Madonna and Johnny Mathis avoided trendy production techniques, instead giving the brothers' twin guitars room to breathe in a classic but not slavishly traditional blues framework. The result was the Grammy-winning Contemporary Blues Recording, 1990's Family Style. A top ten album on the Billboard 200, it's represented on the box set by the vocal showcase "Good Texan" (with both Vaughans singing, a first for Jimmie on record) and the instrumental "D/FW," winner of the Rock Instrumental Performance statuette. Sadly, the album was released just shy of one month following Stevie's tragic death in a helicopter crash at the age of 35.
Eric Clapton encouraged Jimmie to get back on the stage following his brother's death. Niles and Jimmie co-produced Jimmie's solo debut Strange Pleasure (1994) as well as the same year's A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan which featured a starry roster including Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Robert Cray, and Art Neville. Jimmie began writing more, too, and found his voice as a singer. The latter discs in The Jimmie Vaughan Story chronicle these fruitful solo years which have seen Jimmie record for Epic, Proper, and The Last Music Company. He netted another Grammy, this time in the Traditional Blues Album field, for 2001's Do You Get the Blues? While the standard 5-CD set reprises a couple of cuts ("Deep End," "Dirty Girl"), the super deluxe edition has the whole album on vinyl, too. Note that the album's "Don't Let the Sun Set" is featured on 45 RPM due to the time limitations of the 12-inch platter.
Jimmie Vaughan has always thrived in a collaborative setting, so much of the box is devoted to his collaborations. Among his musical partners here are Albert Collins, Bo Diddley, Doyle Bramhall, Lou Ann Barton, Delbert McClinton, John Lee Hooker, Susan Tedeschi, Charlie Musselwhite, Bonnie Raitt, Billy F. Gibbons, and Sue Foley - a true "Who's Who" of the blues, attesting to Vaughan's respect within the community. Previously unreleased songs are peppered throughout the box such as Jimmie's version of "Texas Flood," best known as the title track of Stevie Ray's landmark 1983 debut album, and a trio of songs from the pre-Fabulous Thunderbirds band Storm. Billy Myles' "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" was introduced by Freddie King and later became a Clapton favorite with numerous live recordings in his catalogue; Storm's version stands tall next to them. More surprising is Storm's take on Ben Tucker's "Comin' Home Baby," best-known in Mel Tormé's swingin' version with lyrics by Bob Dorough. "Monday Night B.B. Blues" is a Jimmie Vaughan original tipping its hat to one of his key influences and friends.
Both editions of The Jimmie Vaughan Story, produced by Malcolm Mills, feature the same miniature box, designed in the style of a Fender amp with a sturdy outer box and simpler inner slipcase, to house the five CDs and hardcover book. (It's stored within the larger, LP-sized box of the super deluxe edition.) The liner notes are primarily told in Jimmie's own words, giving the essays a personal touch. Vaughan's candor when relating his struggles around the time of Stevie Ray's death is particularly touching. (He's also penned a new note for the vinyl edition of Do You Get the Blues? in the super deluxe edition.) Numerous photos, memorabilia, and album covers accompany the text. Daniel Stapleton has remastered the audio on Discs 2-5; sound is solid throughout although some of the live sources vary in quality.
Do you get the blues? If you don't, The Jimmie Vaughan Story might be just the primer you need. If you're a longtime fan, it should prove a treasure trove.
The Jimmie Vaughan Story is available now:
5CD/1LP/1-7" single Deluxe Box Set: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
5CD Box Set: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Leave a Reply