Saturday, October 14, 2006
The Better Brother
Jimmy Vaughan is better than his brother.
Jimmy is the older brother you never heard of. He was playing in the Fabulous Thunderbirds out of Austin Texas all through the seventies. This video is from 1980, and encapsulates the roadhouse vibe perfectly. And people familiar with Jimmy's younger brother Stevie Ray will hear many phrases they heard later on, transmogrified and supercharged a bit. But not improved.
Of course Jimmy is an editor, a syncretist himself. You can hear all sorts of people in there, in a huge mashup of Texas and Chicago and Mississippi blues. But there comes a point where the derivations have been blended and tweaked and stacked and distilled to where they can honestly be called original. Jimmy is standing on many people's shoulders. His brother stood on his.
It was easy to be impressed by Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was flashy. But all flash must be subordinated to the propulsion of the song forward, or it's frosting on a turd cake. Later in his career, before he died, SRV figured that out, and calmed down enough to be musical first, and a machine-gun hero second, and so was able to push farther than Jimmy by finally emulating him properly. Move the song forward. Don't interrupt it to show off. The guitar must thread through it like a string through a Christmas garland. There's usually Christmas garlands from fourteen years ago decorating the roadhouse stage - in July -- to give you the hint.
I used to see both brothers now and again in roadhouses, and eventually in theaters. It's hard to describe the feeling of paying a couple of bucks and standing right in front of that and letting it wash over you. The crowd would always act like a big organism - single celled, not thinking -- reacting to stimulation as one, aligning their rhythms as purposefully as the worn stripe on the pavement that passed by the shack into the darkened distance. Going somewhere unseen, together without planning. Moving and standing still.
Beer comes in its own glass. There is no worry about ruining your good shoes because you don't have any good shoes. You never have to ask because everybody dances with everybody else. The fights are for amusement. The big Fender Twin's tube's reflected glow illuminates the back wall all it's gonna get. Jimmy Vaughan reaches down with his extended pinkie, and spins the volume knob without thinking, and makes his lilting interjections come forward or lay back to taste.
Always to taste.