Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Remembering a Blues Great
Every kid growing up in Texas who ever picked up a guitar wanted to play the blues at one time or another. You can hear it in any music that’s ever come out of Texas, whether it’s rock and roll, country and western, or even mainstream pop. Give a Texan a guitar, and strings are going to bend. Playing the blues and making the blues come alive are two different things, however. Stevie Ray Vaughan, in a recording career that barely spanned seven years, reimagined electric blues, and transformed the genre forever.

While most press links Stevie Ray Vaughan to Austin, he had a huge following in Dallas long before his major label debut in 1983. I used to see him and Double Trouble at a tiny venue called St. Christopher’s. It was a pool hall/bar that also booked bands. It didn’t have a stage to speak of—just a corner of the club for the band to play. To call it “intimate” would be charitable—it was the definition of a dive, and I mean that in the most convivial way possible. It was the kind of place that didn’t enforce capacity codes efficiently, but it did have a helluva jukebox. It was always crowded and hot, and when Stevie Ray and Double Trouble played, it was a lot hotter.

You can get a rough idea, albeit a bit cleaned up, as to what St. Christopher’s was like on the “Love Struck Baby” video, which introduces the DVD release of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Pride and Joy. Originally released shortly after Vaughan’s untimely death in 1990, Pride and Joy was a collection of the six videos released to promote the albums Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather and Crossfire. In its original version, it also included a live version of “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime)” and a sorta “live” performance of “Superstition.” (The audio from the latter was from a live performance, but the video was staged.)

Technically, the DVD version of Pride and Joy is a reissue of the 1990 release, but only in the narrowest of definitions. This new release not only expands the original’s half-hour length to over 70 minutes, but benefits from remixed stereo and 5.1 Dolby audio enhancements. Besides being crystalline both in audio and video, the DVD also has a clearer sense of Vaughan’s historical significance. Now at seventeen tracks, the DVD is more a chronicle of his too-short career than the ragtag collection of MTV promo clips that the original was.

Those clips are still there, of course, and they still hold up musically, if somewhat dated visually. They date from the days when MTV actually promoted music via video, and still have a certain nostalgic charm about them. Despite their mini-movie style, and even though they hardly showcased the intricacies of his style, it’s a fact they helped promote Vaughan’s abilities to a wider audience. Three previously unreleased performances from MTV’s Unplugged series rectify that. On “Rude Mood,” “Pride and Joy” and “Testify,” Vaughan channels all his flash into a 12-string acoustic, with results every bit as electrifying as his signature Stratocaster performances.

The DVD also includes posthumously released promo videos from the album The Vaughan Brothers, the album Vaughan was working on with his brother Jimmie Vaughan shortly before the helicopter crash that took Stevie Ray’s life. Most haunting, though, is the inclusion of his instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Besides being a haunting rendition of the tune, it’s a visual montage of great guitarists, most, but not all of whom have passed. There’s a fleeting instant depicting Stevie Ray Vaughan performing.

A talent like Stevie Ray Vaughan comes along only once every couple of generations—and that’s if we’re lucky. The sting of irony is that those talents invariably seem to leave us too quickly. Pride and Joy falls short of being a definitive chronicle of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life. It focuses more on his videos, which were, as the industry demands, oriented to wide audiences. Still, it offers moments of insight into his short life. And it’s all done with his beloved Stratocasters as the main star.

I think he would have wanted it that way.

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