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.


Uncle Mikey said...

Van Halen is what interested me in rock first, although I had absorbed Hendrix, Zeppelin and everything else (with a healthy dose of Todd Rundgren) through my bedroom walls from my siblings' rooms. But it was Eddie who perked my ears up.

Later I gravitated to Allan Holdsworth and (to a far lesser degree) Yngwie Malmsteen, and songs were the things I had to wait through to get to the yummy solo parts. Speed didn't always make them more interesting, but in some cases it was a big part of my enjoyment. In the right places, speed wasn't just flash and show-off, it was the perfect thing to take me over the top, a transcendent feeling like you'd get from an intense mogul run or downhill on a mountain bike. And although a good song builds to such a peak for a reason, my memory is good enough to put me in the ready position for that solo the second time I heard the song.

Much later, I found Miles and Coltrane, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. The songs were as big as the solos, I realized, and on the piano a great artist can mix it all together in a way that keeps me riveted. But still I was most interested in those solos, the unleashed voices of musical giants. "Blue in Green" from Kind of Blue is an amazing piece of art, and can make me cry every single time if I let it. And as gorgeous as every little bit of the song is, Coltrane's solo takes it to a whole other place, a place it needed to go. A place I needed it to go.

It may be a personal taste thing. I like loud, fast, violent and scary, and not everyone feels that way. And as I've grown older, the most intense musical moments I experience aren't things like the solo in Van Halen's "I'm the One" or the one in Holdsworth's "Devil Take the Hindmost." They're often things like the beautiful aching slowness of Bill Evans' "When I Fall in Love."

Which may well be why my favorite SRV song is "Riviera Paradise," achingly beautiful in its own right. But Jimmy better than Stevie? I agree with you a lot, but I'm not sure about that one.

Anonymous said...

The article titled "The Better Brother" reaches the inner and almost complete truth about the Vaughan Bros.

Being a huge fan of both, Jimmie and Stevie, I have been monitoring their careers from the early 80s and I have always favourized the work of the older brother, Jimmie.

My favourites are the first 4 albums of the Fab T-Birds, especially T-Bird Rhythm. On this LP you can hear the best of Texas, rocked-up, yet downhome enuff, blues and shuffle.

I am only sad to tell that I miss the energy from the upper mentioned 4 records when I listen to current Jimmie's releases.

There are some sparks evident on his last effort done with Omar (Van Dyke), but I would have some more of it.

Big bluesy hug to Jimmie Lee from the greatest of his fans -

T-Bird from Ljubljana, Slovenia.

God Bless You Jimmie.