“TEXAS FLOOD: THE INSIDE STORY OF STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN”
By Alan Paul and Andy Aledort (St. Martin’s Press; $29.99)
It was my privilege to call Stevie Ray Vaughan “friend” for almost a decade, from the Texas roadhouses that he and Double Trouble loudly rocked in the early ’80s until he ascended into the cloudy heavens above Alpine Valley in 1990. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were a major force in reigniting interest in blues music, lead guitar and live performances, at a time when popular music was dominated by MTV videos and backing tracks.
“Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” by Allman Brothers biographer Alan Paul and Guitar World contributor Any Aledort, is the first book on Stevie that was blessed by Stevie Ray’s brother Jimmie (a guitarist in his own right) and as such, serves as the de facto “authorized” biography. It has the expected pros and cons of a volume approved by the family.
READERS LOOKING for a detailed analysis of Stevie’s music will not find that here. No doubt someone else will attempt that.
This volume is about Stevie’s personal story, by those who knew him best; the person, the family, the struggle, the love of music, the marriage, the drugs, the girlfriend, the bandmates, the sobriety, the helicopter he last flew in. The man I heard once tell Huey Lewis that he played for 50 people the same way he played for 5,000.
The best thing about this book is that many of those closest to Stevie, including his bandmates in Double Trouble, Tommy Shannon and Chris “Whipper” Layton and later Reese Wynans, talked to the authors. You cannot tell Stevie’s story without them. When a reporter referred to Double Trouble as his band, Stevie replied that Double Trouble was not his band; he was the guitarist for Double Trouble.
Both Layton’s and Shannon’s recollections have become kinder with age than I remembered them at the time, especially Shannon’s. But, as Shannon and I discussed, some things are better left unsaid.
Those closest to Stevie had declined to talk to earlier biographers. Doyle Bramhall Sr., who co-wrote much of Double Trouble’s last album with Stevie, told me that once, backstage at a concert, when he saw another author who had claimed Stevie asked her to write a book on him, she turned and walked away. “She didn’t want to deal with me,” he said.
READERS MIGHT have seen more of Stevie the person, perhaps, had we been able to hear more from friends and fellow musicians like Lou Ann Barton and Doyle Bramhall Sr. But Bramhall passed in 2011, and Barton talks to whom she wants, when she wants, about what she wants. Authors have to use what source material they have. Here a fair amount of space is given to those who worked with Stevie for a day or two.
The book reads like an oral history in many places. The authors have cut and pasted from interviews, many conducted by them, rather than adapting it into narrative prose.
In some places, people remember things differently. The authors chose not to comment or resolve conflicting recollections and leave it to the reader to decide or to contemplate how different people remember things differently.
Probably my major disappointment with the book is the poor quality of the reproduction of black and white photos included in the text. When I asked Shannon about it, ever the gentleman, he said, “The photos are old.” But he and I have both seen the originals, some of which are his. See Jay R. Jordan’s article in the Houston Chronicle, Oct. 15, 2019, if you want to see some of them in better quality.
Several have asked me if I am in the book. I am not. I have been in Hawaii a generation now, away from the scene. And why have me tell it when you have Layton and Shannon?
When asked about the Double Trouble days, Layton, who has gone on to be one of the blues’ most well-known drummers (he currently drums for the Experience Hendrix tour and the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band) would often graciously gesture to me and say, “Ask him, he remembers more than I do.” He was too busy living it.
However, one of the biggest revelations to me in the book has to do with Layton.
The book details how Stevie chose Layton — not because he was an established blues drummer, but because Stevie, who the book points out could drum, felt he could mold Layton into the kind of drummer he wanted. And he did. And Layton became really good at it.
I questioned this version so much that I called up Shannon and he confirmed it (he also said W.C. Clark helped). Stevie Ray Vaughan, drummer, schooled Chris Layton. I never knew!
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Layton was kind enough to invite me for the small part I played in that. Now you too, can know part of the inside story.
The book quotes from an interview with the late Dr. John: “Whatever he gave to the world is something that will live on forever; but most people know the music but they don’t know the musician. And that’s the part that I miss — knowing the person.”
If you are going to read one book on Stevie Ray Vaughan, as of today, this is the one to read. Enjoy.