Jimmie Vaughan with Lou Ann Barton
Jimmie Vaughan is far more than just one of the greatest and most respected guitarists in the world of popular music. As Guitar Player Magazine boasts, "He is a virtual deity–a living legend." After all, Vaughan provides a vital link between contemporary music and its proud heritage, as well as being a longtime avatar of retro cool.
Vaughan's musical abilities and sense of style were apparent from an early age. Growing up in Oak Cliff, just south of downtown Dallas, he was weaned on classic Top 40 radio, vintage blues, early rock n' roll, the deepest rhythm and blues and coolest jazz of the day, thanks to KNOX AM and border radio like XERB. "I never got over that stuff and I never will." When he was sidelined by a football injury at the age of 13, a family friend fatefully gave Jimmy a guitar to occupy him during his recuperation. From the moment his fingers touched the fret board and he learned a Jimmy Reed tune, he was hooked. His prowess was seemingly instant as Mother Martha Vaughan recalls: "It was like he played it all his life." He also began tutoring his younger brother Stevie who would site his big brother as his biggest influence. After hearing Muddy Waters and Freddie King play in Dallas, Vaughan became possessed and delved deeply into the blues, melding his many influences into a style that was clean, economical and articulate, concentrating on rhythmic accents and lead work that relies on the power of less in more.
Determined to create an ideal vehicle for blues music that was both modern in its impact and appeal yet true to the tradition that inspired him, Vaughan founded The Fabulous Thunderbirds with Kim Wilson in the mid '70s, becoming the Antone's house band thereby sharing the stage and jamming with all the blues icons that passed through: Muddy, Albert King, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, all of whom recognized Jimmy as the man who would keep the music they developed alive for future generations. Eric Clapton recalls: "The first time I heard Jimmie Vaughan I was impressed with the raw power of his sound. His style is unique, and if I've learned anything from him, it's to keep it simple." Likewise Buddy Guy proclaimed: "He just plays it like it's supposed to be played." Even Stevie Ray acknowledged that when people compare his playing to that of his brother, there was really no contest. "I play probably 80% of what I can play. Jimmie plays 1% of what he knows. He can play anything." Jimmie is more modest in accessing his abilities, though very clear when it comes to his approach. "I try to speak with my guitar in sentences," he explains. "The people that I enjoy and the music that I enjoy are not about just a bunch of licks strung together. If you just play a bunch of guitar licks that aren't connected, it's like throwing a lot of words into a bowl. It doesn't make any sense. It's just words. "When I listen to Gene Ammons, the great saxophone player, I get the feeling he's telling you a story. That's how I'd like to play guitar someday, when I grow up. That's the goal. That's what I enjoy. That's what makes me get chill bumps-when you listen to music where the phrasing comes out and it speaks."
Throughout his career, Vaughan has earned the esteem of his legendary guitar-playing heroes and superstar peers along with successive generations of young players. His musical ethos and personal style have had an impact on contemporary culture, from spearheading the current blues revival with The Fabulous Thunderbirds to his longtime, innate fashion sense of slicked-back hair and sharp vintage threads (now seen throughout the pages of contemporary fashion journals) to becoming a premier designer of classic custom cars. But for Jimmie Vaughan, none of it is part of a crusade or a career plan. It's just his natural way of living his life and pursuing the interests that have captivated Vaughan since his youth. Jimmie's band features Texas singing legend Lou Ann Barton, a founding member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Jimmie and Lou Ann's potent vocal chemistry shines in their music. Yet for all his accomplishments and the admiration he has earned, Jimmie Vaughan remains modest when it comes to his life and work. "I'm just trying to have fun like everyone else," he concludes. "I've been playing since I was 13. I play every day. I've never stopped. The Blues, Ballads and Favorites albums represent a labor of love and provide a second wind for Jimmie. Each of the songs has a special meaning to Vaughan, who's absorbed the essence of these prime slices of Americana for nearly all his life. 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 Jimmie Vaughan music has always been about one thing: having a good ol' time. "It's 120% American and I just love it," he says. "It's fun."
LOU ANN BARTON
Although she doesn't tour nearly as much as she probably could (or as much as we'd like), Austin-based vocalist Lou Ann Barton is one of the finest purveyors of raw, unadulterated roadhouse blues that you'll ever hear. Barton sprang fully formed into the Texas barroom blues scene. The Fort Worth native is a veteran of thousands of dancehall and club shows all over Texas. Lou Ann moved to Austin in the 1970s and was at ground zero as founding member of both the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and plays a vital role co-fronting the Tilt-A-Whirl Band. Barton has to be seen live to be fully appreciated. She can deliver a lyric so that she can be heard over a two-guitar band with horns. Not just heard, but felt deep in your gut. Says Vaughan about his vocal partner, "I go back with Lou Ann before the Thunderbirds. When we met she was 18 and 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." Barton belts out her lyrics in a twangy voice so full of Texas that you can smell the barbecue sauce. She swaggers confidently about the stage, casually tossing her cigarette to the floor as the band kicks in. These songs hold a simpatico resonance for Lou too. The grace, poise, and confidence she projects on-stage are part of a long tradition for women blues singers. Women were crucial at the birth of the Blues and The blues world still needs more good female blues singers like her to help to broaden the appeal of the music to diverse audiences and to further its evolution.