STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN, 1954–1990 Oak Cliff Native

Stevie Ray Vaughan, blues musician and guitar legend, was born in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas on October 3, 1954, to Jim and Martha Vaughan. Stevie’s exposure to music began in his childhood, as he watched his big brother, Jimmie, play guitar. Stevie’s fascination with the blues drove him to teach himself to play the guitar before he was an adolescent.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

By the time Vaughan was in high school, he was staying up all night, playing guitar in clubs in Deep Ellum in Dallas. In his sophomore year he enrolled in an experimental arts program at Southern Methodist University for artistically gifted high school students, but the program did not motivate him to stay in school, and he dropped out before graduation in order to play music full-time.

By 1972, at the age of seventeen, Stevie moved to Austin, in an attempt to become involved in the music scene. Over the next few years he slept on pool tables and couches in the back of clubs and collected bottles to earn money for new guitar strings. He joined the Nightcrawlers, a blues band formed by Doyle Bramhall with Marc Benno. Doyle Bramhall (1949–2011), who went on to secure his own reputation as a renowned drummer and singer–songwriter, had performed with Stevie’s brother Jimmie in Dallas in their band the Chessmen, and the two later organized the band Texas Storm in Austin. In the Nightcrawlers, Stevie Vaughan played guitar and, impressed by Bramhall’s gravelly soul vocals, adopted that singing style as his own. Bramhall would write or co-write a number of songs that Vaughan would later record, including “Dirty Pool,” “Change It,” “The House is Rockin’,” and “Life by the Drop.”

By 1975 Vaughan was playing with another Austin group, Paul Ray and the Cobras. With the opening of Antone’s blues club later that year, he also found an ally in club owner Clifford Antone. Vaughan’s performance with guitarist Albert King onstage at Antone’s, for example, earned him the respect of the blues legend. Recognition outside of Austin, however, eluded him. Vaughan left the Cobras and by the late 1970s was in a group that included Lou Ann Barton, W. C. Clark, and others and was known as Triple Threat. This group eventually evolved into Double Trouble, with Barton, bassist Jackie Newhouse, and drummer Chris Layton. Barton left the band, and Tommy Shannon replaced Newhouse. Keyboardist Reese Wynans came on board in 1985.

By the early 1980s the group had built a solid following in Texas and was beginning to attract the attention of well-established musicians like Mick Jagger, who in 1982 invited Vaughan and the band to play at a private party in New York City. That same year Double Trouble received an invitation to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. They were the first band in the history of the festival to play without having a major record contract. The performance was seen by David Bowie and Jackson Browne, and Stevie gained even more acclaim as a talented and rising young musician. Browne invited Vaughan to his Los Angeles studio for a demo session, at which Stevie and Double Trouble recorded some tracks for what eventually became his 1983 debut album, Texas Flood. Bowie had Vaughan play lead guitar on his album Let’s Dance.

Courtesy Handbook of Texas Online & The Hidden City, Oak Cliff, Texas by Bill Minutaglio & Holly Williams.