Friday, October 13, 2023

Archive Review: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood (1983/2013)

You all know this story by now, but here’s a condensed version for those new readers wondering just what this brouhaha over Stevie Ray Vaughan is all about. Inspired by his brother Jimmie, a young Stevie Ray picked up the guitar and soon eclipsed his older sibling in talent (though Jimmie Vaughan is certainly no slouch himself…when I met him in Nashville in the early 1980s after a show, after complimenting the guitarist he said something to the effect of “if you think I’m good, you should hear my brother Stevie!”). Various bands like the Cobras would follow before SRV formed Triple Threat with singer Lou Ann Barton. After Barton’s departure, the band became Double Trouble.   

Performing with Double Trouble at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival, the incendiary performance brought Vaughan to the attention of two bona fide 1970s rock ‘n’ roll superstars – David Bowie and Jackson Browne. Bowie enlisted the Texas guitarist to play on his 1983 album Let’s Dance, while Browne offered the band the use of his rudimentary personal recording studio in Los Angeles. Traveling to L.A. Vaughan and Double Trouble recorded the basic tracks of what would become the band’s debut album, Texas Flood. Signed by the legendary John Hammond (who had discovered Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen, among many others), Texas Flood was released in June 1983 to an enthusiastic audience hungry for the blues, breaking into the Top 40 on its way to Platinum™ sales status.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s Texas Flood

The ten songs on Stevie Ray’s Texas Flood are so well-known by now that they’ve become a vital part of the DNA of the blues. Still, they’re worth another spin around the turntable for those who haven’t listened to them in a while. Album-opener “Love Struck Baby” is a rip-roarin’ rocker with plenty o’ twangy blues/rockabilly hybrid guitar, Vaughan’s vocals delivered with a punkish speed and intensity as the Double Trouble rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton bang out a driving rhythm. At less than two-and-a-half minutes in length, “Love Struck Baby” is the perfect lead-in to the album’s swinging hit single, “Pride and Joy.”

A swaggering, boogie-blasted mid-tempo wildfire, “Pride and Joy” better showcases Vaughan’s often-soulful vocals, the band delivering a fast-walking rhythm on top of which Vaughan threads his shake, rattle, and rollin’ guitar licks, his frets buzzing with electricity, the guitarist’s solos scattin’ and be-boppin’ across the landscape like this might be the only record Vaughan ever gets to make. The slower-paced title track sounds downright somnambulant by contrast, Vaughan spitting out the licks with fierce determination, his vocals twisted in anguish as the guitar channels his pain. It’s a great performance, and one that got people to pay attention to the up-and-coming bluesman.

 SRV Pays Tribute to His Idols

Texas Flood
is chock full of sly musical references, SRV paying tribute to his many musical idols, whether through his performance of their material or by slipping in vaguely-familiar notes and riff from influences like Albert King or Otis Rush. Vaughan’s cover of the great Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Tell Me” is anything but a faithful recreation, the guitarist re-defining the song for a new generation, keeping just enough to remind listeners of the original, but injecting it with raucous solos that would make Hubert Sumlin blush, his raging fretwork matched by the band’s traveling, Chicago-styled rhythm.

Buddy’s Guy’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is dirtied up with some Texas fatback, Vaughan’s breathless vocals supported by a slinky groove created larger-than-life by an often-overlooked and underrated Double Trouble rhythm section. Vaughan’s guitar tone here is lighter, higher, and more structured than just about any other on Texas Flood, displaying a different side of his talents.”Rood Mood” is another longtime, crowd-pleasing Vaughan favorite, a rollicking instrumental with more than a little Lonnie Mack influence (another of Vaughan’s musical touchstones), the performance racing at 120mph to the finish line, Layton’s machine-gun drumbeats matched by Vaughan’s frenetic, rockabilly-flavored chicken-pickin’ while Shannon lays down a solid rhythmic foundation.

Live At Ripley’s Music Hall

“I’m Cryin’“ is a sadly-overlooked part of Vaughan’s too-brief catalog, the song’s shuffling beat belying its finely-crafted tearjerker lyrics, Vaughan’s emotional reading of them, and the subtle fretwork that supports what is essentially a traditional blues song. For this 2013 reissue CD, a lone bonus track has been tacked on to the end, songwriter and producer Bob Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley (a/k/a Roughest Place In Town)” a longtime part of Vaughan’s repertoire, appearing in slightly different form on the guitarist’s second album, Couldn’t Stand The Weather. It’s still a great tune, full of menace and atmosphere, slowly unrolling with muted rhythms and a flurry of notes to nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, fading out as rapidly as the band jumped in at the beginning, leaving nothing but smoldering embers.   

The two-disc 30th anniversary edition of Texas Flood includes a previously-unreleased (albeit frequently-bootlegged) live show recorded at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1983, a few short months after the debut album’s release. The nine-song set runs nearly an hour in length and, naturally, leans heavily towards material from Texas Flood. Vaughan and Double Trouble were built to be a live band, honing their chops in the smoky honky-tonks and back alley blues dives of the Lone Star State, so it comes as no shock that the live performances of songs like “Pride and Joy” or “Love Struck Baby” strike an immediate chord with the audience. The former swings for the fences immediately with livewire intensity while the latter roars down the tracks like a runaway freight train, Vaughan’s rampaging guitar licks hitting the audience like a six-string tornado.

Stomping On Jimi’s Turf

One of the nicest surprises offered by the Ripley’s Music Hall performance is Vaughan’s two detours on to Jimi Hendrix turf, the guitarist and Double Trouble covering Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and mashing together “Little Wing” and “Third Rock From the Sun” into a fetching medley. First, Vaughan revisits the Isley Brothers’ “Testify” from the album, the obscure 1964 single from the R&B giants originally featuring a young Jimi on guitar. Vaughan tears into this instrumental cover version like a starving man at a buffet table, ripping off blazing solos with lightning quickness and thunderous power.   

Vaughan treats “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” with a fair amount of reverence, re-creating the signature opening lick-for-lick before the storm clouds gather and the guitarist descends from Mount Olympus, hammer in hand, to school we mere mortals with a larger-than-life performance that, while falling a bit short of Jimi’s mighty vocals, nonetheless makes up for it with otherworldly guitarplay, the explosive riffs and scorched-earth solos jumping out of your speakers like the Four Horsemen of some sort of blues-based apocalypse.

It’s a heady moment, but handily eclipsed by the medley of “Little Wing” and “Third Stone From the Sun.” Taking one of Hendrix’s most melodically-heartbreaking songs, Vaughan turbo-charges the arrangement while keeping its wistful, haunting familiarity. As it rumbles into “Third Stone,” Vaughan and Double Trouble quicken the pace in an attempt to launch into orbit, expanding the performance into truly psychedelic-blues territory with swirling guitars, hypnotic percussion, and heartbeat bass lines that would shift and soar according to the band’s whim. If anything, Vaughan’s cover of the song here dances over Jimi’s spacey original, channeling just enough of the familiar to be recognizable, but embellishing it with torrents of noise and feedback, unbridled animal energy that borders on the primordial, and enough lofty tone to lift it from the planet and into the stratosphere, delivering an amazing pyrotechnics display of sound and fury.    

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Vaughan was criticized when Texas Flood was released for the album’s lack of apparent identity. While it’s true that the guitarist frequently wore his musical influences on his sleeve, Texas Flood was an amalgam of years spent by the band on the Southern club circuit, time-tested and proven material that would light up the most hard-bitten of audiences. While the debut’s follow-up, Couldn’t Stand The Weather, often sounds half-baked, Texas Flood by comparison – although recorded over the span of only two short days – is fully-realized and full of energy.

While Stevie Ray and Double Trouble wouldn’t really hit their full creative stride until 1989’s In Step, they were seldom anything but brilliant on the stage. The band’s live reputation, combined with the power and strength of its stunning debut album, would jump-start a commercial blues revival that continues, in admittedly lesser form, to this day. Texas Flood represents Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut as a bluesman, as an influential guitarist, and as an icon in a manner unlike any recording since John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton introduced “Slowhand” to Britain. Texas Flood was, and will always remain, a blues-rock classic… (Legacy Recordings, released January 29th, 2013)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood (Legacy Edition)

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