‘Play guitar and be a blues singer’
With a new Grammy-nominated album, Jimmie Vaughan is still living the dream
When it comes to homegrown guitar players, Texas has quite the legacy. The Lone Star State has given the world Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddy King, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Billy Gibson and perhaps the greatest pair of blues-guitar-playing siblings ever, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The younger brother, of course, left the world too early when he died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of 35. But Jimmie Vaughan has kept the family musical legacy alive and built on it, recording eight albums and touring as a solo artist and bandleader in the 30 years since he and Stevie Ray recorded their only collaboration—the Vaughan Brothers’ Family Style—in the months before his brother passed.
Vaughan’s latest release is the 2020 Grammy-nominated Baby, Please Come Home, a collection of covers honoring a number of his idols, including Etta James, Lefty Frizzell, Fats Domino, Jimmy Reed and fellow Texan T-Bone Walker. When asked in a recent interview about the inspiration for this project, the Dallas-area native kept it simple.
“It’s really just things that I like. I found out that, when I go into the studio, I like to pretend that I’m making 45s. All I have to do is find two or three songs and cut ’em. If I treat them like singles, I can try this or that and it just seems to take away the massive burden of coming up with a bunch of songs all at once, which is terrible. It sort of lets the air out of the room,” Vaughan said with a laugh. “The next thing you know, you have an album.”
Vaughan’s distinctive punchy guitar twang is the glue holding together songs that reverberate with a juke-joint vibe that’s punctuated by horns and the occasional female vocal harmony. Covers of Bill Doggett’s slinky instrumental “Hold It” and Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s “Midnight Hour” sound like lost B-sides plucked from the vaults of legendary R&B imprints like Modern or Federal Records.
Music has been a constant in the Texan’s life, thanks to backgrounds on both sides of his family, but it was a freak football injury that set him down his own musical path.
“I had a friend of mine at school in junior high who said that if I wanted to have a girlfriend, I was going to have to play football. So I went out for football and I was not a particularly good athlete—I was lousy, as a matter of fact,” Vaughn said.
A hard tackle and a broken collarbone later, and the then-12-year-old Vaughn was laid up for three months. “My parents, who both worked, didn’t know what they were going to do with me for three months. So my dad told me to play guitar because I had just gotten one with three strings on it. … I’ve been playing ever since.”
Of course, little Stevie Ray, who idolized his big brother, followed his lead.
“People would come to the house and my father would say, ‘Jim, go get your guitar and play a song for our guests.’ I would go get the acoustic guitar and play something like Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood.’ It wasn’t very long until Stevie would get his little guitar. … We’d play together and the guest would usually say something like, ‘You boys are really good. Maybe you can make a record together someday,’” Vaughn recalled.
However, it wasn’t until after the two had each found separate success in the 1980s—Jimmie playing guitar with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray leading Double Trouble—that they’d make Family Style, their only album together.
Family tragedies aside, Vaughan says that his life has kind of worked out how he envisioned while recovering from that broken collarbone.
“After a couple of days of trying to play guitar and [finding] it was pretty cool, I thought I might be able to make some records, earn some money, buy a car and split,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve just been fortunate. I’ve always wanted to make records, play guitar and be a blues singer, so my dreams have come true.”