Jimmie Vaughan Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites
“Fabulous” Fender artist’s first album in nine years out July 6
Jimmie Vaughan Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites, his first new album in nine years.
When Jimmie Vaughan says “I have the best job in the world,” he isn’t kidding.
For more than four decades, the guitar-slinging Texas legend has earned his living rockin’ the blues, and nothing makes the man happier. But now Vaughan is even more excited than usual about his gig, because for his newest release he’s consulted the vast blues encyclopedia that is his mind to come up with a nearly all-covers set best described by its unambiguous title—Jimmie Vaughan Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites.
Self-produced and recorded in Vaughan’s hometown, Austin, Texas, the newest disc by the co-founder of the still much-missed Fabulous Thunderbirds spotlights a wild array of tunes originally recorded by artists such as Roy Milton, Jimmy Reed, Roscoe Gordon and Little Richard. There’s even a Willie Nelson favorite tossed in.
Vaughan said no particular criterion was used in choosing the songs; he simply narrowed down a long list of songs he likes, and the result was Blues, Ballads and Favorites.
“I just wanted to do these songs and that was it, really,” Vaughan said. “And like all of my albums, this one is 100 percent totally selfish. I want people to like what I do, but at the same time I have this strong feeling that if I don’t like it, I can’t expect them to. These were just songs that I liked for one reason or another. Some of them were a little scary to me because I hold them up high, but I just did them anyway. These are the ones that made it.”
Recorded mostly with local musicians, and with longtime cohort Lou Ann Barton lending occasional vocals, Blues, Ballads and Favorites is Vaughan’s first new release in nearly nine years. Why such a long wait?
“I got married and had twins,” Vaughan said. “And a lot of things happened in between.”
One listen to the new album, however, makes it clear that nothing has dulled Vaughan’s masterful guitar prowess and powerful vocal delivery. “I’m just about to turn 59 years old and I’m having a good time,” the longtime Fender signature artist said. “I’ve got my second wind here.”
“Having a good time”: Vaughan “woodsheds.”
Vaughan’s love affair with blues and rock ’n’ roll reaches back to his Dallas childhood. Listening to R&B and blues on the radio, seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show and watching his uncles play country on their guitars—all those experiences helped shape Vaughan’s musical interests early on.
Then fate intervened in the form of injury. While home from school recuperating from a broken collarbone, Vaughan was given his first guitar.
“My dad’s friend gave me a guitar and said, ‘Play this,’” Vaughan said. “They were afraid I’d get in trouble around the house. It was an acoustic cowboy guitar with three strings. I learned a Jimmy Reed thing, and I’ve been playing ever since. After about a week I knew this was what I wanted to do. I thought to myself, ‘If I really practice, I can get some money and get a car and I can split.’”
He did get the car, eventually—he now collects them—and loads of guitars, but Vaughan never did leave Texas. He began playing around the state in several bands; most notably the Chessmen, who once opened for Jimi Hendrix. He met vocalist/harmonica player Kim Wilson in 1974, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds were born. It wasn’t exactly a thriving era for blues, though.
“People told us, ‘You can’t do this,’” Vaughan said. “You can’t have a blues band. Why do you want to do this? You’re crazy.”
Vaughan and the Thunderbirds paid no mind, however, and they proved all doubters wrong slowly but surely. The band released its debut album, Girls Go Wild, in 1979 and grew a formidable fan base.
After a couple more albums, the Thunderbirds peaked in popularity with 1986 release Tuff Enuff, a classic of the genre that still sounds as monstrous today as it did nearly a quarter century ago. Vaughan remained with the group for another four years, after which he cut an album, Family Style, with his younger brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album was an immediate hit on its fall 1990 release, but the younger Vaughan perished in an August 27, 1990, helicopter crash, mere weeks after the album’s completion. To this day, Jimmie Vaughan can’t quite get his head around the tragic event.
“The whole thing doesn’t seem like it happened,” he said. “It still stings. But I’m proud of the record we did together.”
Assessing his brother’s prodigious talent and meteoric rise during the 1980s, Vaughan said, “I don’t want this to sound funny, but I think one of the reasons he was so good was because he had to beat me and he had to try harder.”
It took Vaughan several years to come to terms with his brother’s untimely passing, and only then was he able to launch his own solo career in earnest. Debut solo album Strange Pleasure was released in 1994, followed by Out There (1998) and Do You Get the Blues? (2001). Each found Vaughan more fully embracing the rootsy down-home Texas blues sound he grew up with.
Vaughan at the cover shoot for Blues, Ballads and Favorites.
It seems natural then that each of the songs on Blues, Ballads and Favorites holds special meaning for Vaughan, who has absorbed the essence of these prime slices of Americana for most of his life. Several tracks, including the late Doug Sahm’s “Why, Why, Why” and Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s “The Pleasure Is All Mine” feature a tight, funky horn section. Two ballads feature Vaughan and Barton singing together—Little Richard’s “Send Me Some Lovin’” and the Don “Sugarcane” Harris/Dewey Terry-penned “I’m Leaving It Up To You.”
“I go back with Lou Ann before the Thunderbirds,” Vaughan said. “When we met, she was 18 and she sang a Little Richard medley and I never recovered. She was wild. She’s just got a lot of feeling and we like the same kind of stuff.”
Other highlights include new Vaughan instrumental “Comin’ & Goin’,” and “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” a classic Willie Nelson ballad. The latter is sung by Hammond B-3 organ master Bill Willis, a veteran of the King Records hits of James Brown and Bill Doggett, who passed away shortly after recording his parts for the album.
Willis “was like my musical father,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan relishes the opportunity to pass these songs down to a new generation of blues fans. But mostly he just enjoys singing and playing these songs that have traveled with him throughout the decades. For Vaughan, music has always been about one thing—having a good time.
“It’s 120 percent American and I just love it,” he said. “It’s fun.”
Images courtesy Shout Factory.