Double your trouble, double your fun

Calling Stevie Ray Vaughan’s beloved rhythm section Double Trouble “venerable” might seem premature to some, but seeing them (drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tommy Shannon) last week at Jackson Rancheria Casino made me remember vividly the very first time I saw them 20 years ago, two years before their debut album Texas Flood was released. February 1981 it was, at Skip Willy’s, a dive bar on the flat and raggedy outskirts of San Antonio. I arrived in a cab at close to 1 a.m., along with several other national booking agents. I’d heard talk about Stevie, the incendiary, young and volatile guitar-slinger and younger brother of Jimmy Vaughan, whose band the Fabulous Thunderbirds was making retro-waves in the contemporary blues scene. All of us that night were very curious to see the secret that Texans we knew were raving about. We paid the cabbie and slopped through spilled beer on the floor just in time to hear a scrawny guitarist say: “Thank you very much, we appreciate you being here, good night!” Twenty people straggled past us, and there we were standing in a lit-up, empty club.

I decided to let the band know that my colleagues and I had come to see them, so I knocked on the dressing-room door. It opened a crack, and Stevie, shirtless, skinny and sweaty, said, “It’s a girl!” I told him I was from Alligator Records in Chicago, and that I had agents from around the country with me; that we were in town for a national college booking convention. The door opened wide, Stevie grinned, shook my hand, turned to Chris and Tommy, and matter-of-factly said: “Boys, put on your shirts—let’s give this lady a show!” They lined up five chairs right in the middle of the beery concrete floor and with full house lights on, dead tired for sure, played a riveting 40-minute set for us. He probably had to pay the grumpy night manager to stay open. That is the kind of person SRV was, and the kind of people that Chris and Tommy remain.

It has been nearly 11 years since the world lost Stevie. Double Trouble has soldiered on, as blues folk do, mindful of the tremendous support and legacy that follows their every move. Since 1990 they’ve been part of two strong but short-lived bands—the Arc Angels and Storyville. Now they’re on tour behind Been a Long Time, their first album as Double Trouble, with a seven-piece band rapidly assembled to be special guests on tour with SRV worshipper Kenny Wayne Shepherd. These guys are still the real heavy metal blues band deal, laying down a monstrous groove so that their two singers can fly. Storyville’s soul strutter Malford Milligan is a pro at directing their show. And this band may have launched a high-flyin’ cannonball over rock’s creaky bow with a hotshot newcomer out of Minneapolis, Tina Schlieske. Teeth bared, feet planted wide, she roared Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” like a freight train. The sold-out, alcohol-free crowd, knowing it had witnessed a moment, stood up and roared back.Scene & heard was reported by Mindy Giles.