I caught Stevie Ray Vaughan a couple times in concert, once at, of all things, the Playboy Jazz Fest, and when I say he killed, I mean he slew. The guy had a way about him that that overcame all resistances. Whether anyone liked or disclaimed his highly Hendrix-influenced style was irrelevant; once you saw Vaughan get down, it was all over, and you became a devotee. I'd dug him anyway, well before that gig, along with Frank Marino, Jeff Healey, and other thunderstruck top-flight players motivated to follow in Jimi's and electric blues' sacred footsteps.
Well before I witnessed Hendrix in '70 at the L.A. Forum, I'd been fully and completely stoked on Are You Experienced, an LP still, decades later, one of the most mind-blowing collections of songs ever committed to vinyl and which had taken the music world by storm, to this moment standing as arguably THE most influential rock LP ever…Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin a close second to my mind (and I'll have to fight off hordes of Beatles fan for not naming Sgt. Pepper's). I was agog to discover that everything Jimi did in the studio, he could do on stage. Stevie got the message, understood the incredible rigor of the innovative guitar god, and dove in head first. When he played, there was no nonsense, you got 100% of his acumen right there, right then, every time. To see the guy was to be awed.
Well, Rise of a Texas Bluesman is another Sexy Intellectual DVD, which means you get the whole story, and pains are taken to show the grassroots of everything. In the beginning of the documentary, as baselines are traced, we get killer clips of T-Bone Walker and Lightnin' Hopkins in performance, and good God almighty, had SI ended the whole damn thing right there, I could die a happy man, but no, history is important, so we're brought up to Johnny Winter, another key Tejas blueser. Johnny, signed to Columbia in '69, the narrator reminds us, with "the biggest advance in the history of the recording arts" (take THAT, Jimmy Page!) while setting the stage for ZZ Top and SRV, was still wringing the neck of his guitars with fierce intensity until he passed earlier this year.
Well, hell, I saw Johnny in the 70s too, with Lee Michaels and Blood, Sweat, and Tears at the Hollywood Bowl, and what a triple bill that was! Lee and Frosty (Bartholomew Smith-Frost) in a unique power duo set things on fire, Michaels swozzled out of his mind as per wont, and then Johnny came on in a trio and burned the place down. BS&T picked up the pieces and rocked the still smoking embers, so, yeah, there were plenty of bluesfolk to knock your socks off back then, but Albert King was a HUGE influence on everyone, including the then-fledgling Stevie, who would continue to be entranced by the guy even amid all the rock 'n roll pyrotechnics all around him. It was the early 70s, it'd be a while before Vaughan would arrive in full regalia to stoke things back up to incandescence, basically re-igniting the blues as a force to be reckoned with, but, lord lord lord, what antecedents! That's all well covered in Rise.
In fact, the chronicle really drills down deeply into what a dicey affair it is to undertake a music career as your life's work. You have to be damn near a lunatic, which I think explains a hell of a lot about any musician aspiring to fame beyond the roadhouse, but Vaughan was 138% dedicated. This DVD's exhaustive journalism, damn near day by day, gets down in the muck and sweat so that the viewer truly understands what a grind the Texas blues circuit was, as all such routes tend to be, and what dogged will it takes to conquer these things. Yet conquer it the indomitable guitarist did…always in competition with his highly celebrated brother Jimmy.
Then, one fateful day, a woman in the audience at one of his gigs was convinced she was witnessing a singularity, a phenomenon, and hooked him up with the professional management that would land him at Jerry Wexler's doorstep, thence to an appearance at Montreux that was both controversial—he was boo'ed as much as he was cheered—and apotheistic…but I'll leave that in the lurch. It's not nice to give everything away, so I won't. If you're a fan of the man tragically killed in a plane crash just as his star was sitting in its firmament—and, good God!, what might he be doing today had he lived?; the mind reels!—this is the best overview you're going to find on the market.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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