August has been a painful month for me for many years. My Mother died in 1988, and two years later, my friend and great photographic inspiration, Stevie Ray Vaughan passed away. I first met him in March of 1983, and the last time I saw him was in June , 1990. It has now been 25 years without Stevie, and the world was a more beautiful and musical place when he was here.
WE WERE SOMEWHERE NEAR THE STAGE WHEN THE MUSIC BEGAN TO TAKE HOLD……(March 25, 1983) I’d been sent with two writers in tow by a local free new wave paper to photograph the guitar phenom who was about to become David Bowie’s right hand man and leave Oak Cliff behind for good. This small, unassuming Texan stood up there with his battered Strat and his beautiful, huge hands and let loose a flurry of chords that flew around us and enveloped us in–in-disbelief? Shock? It was the second coming of Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and something so unique and alive there was nothing to compare it to. And this was a sound check? He was playing for us, for his bandmates Whipper and Tommy and his man Cutter, he was playing for himself, he was playing for a ride on the train to glory, he was playing because he just couldn’t hold back from the sheer need to wring and wrench those sounds out of his hands, his heart, and his soul. I was in heaven: I’d dreamt of capturing Hendrix on film but I was several years shy of that goal. Here was a man who made me forget I couldn’t be Jim Marshall, that my Leicas had been denied their shot at immortality. This music man would fill that classic 35mm frame with a talent enormous enough to match any headcutter who ever filled a club with his riffs and his voice–he and his instruments voices–and sear that sound onto the film and into our brains with an unmatchable intensity. The desire to raise my photography and my (as Ansel Adams would call it) fluency with my instrument near his level was almost unbearable. It was truly the turning point in my work–that special moment when everything becomes clear and sharp and intuitive–and it was because of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Time stood still for me–the first video Stevie made for MTV scared the bejesus out of me–did his hands really move that fast? Through the rangefinder his motions slowed to 1/30 of a second-an attainable photo, on TV it looked unimaginable that any camera could catch a fragment of his action. Something about him, his playing, the way he gave made that possible for me. Through some wonderful gift, and the size of his spirit, I hear him still. And this, this first witnessing of the sound that shot right through us-this was just a sound check?
Every show was such a fine experience, and it was certainly easier to take the pictures than to write about them-but this IS a blog, after all.
This was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen-absolutely magnificent. It was the last full Stevie show I photographed, and of course I didn’t realize that at the time. I couldn’t have possibly imagined a better chance to capture him at his best. Shooting it was like floating on a cloud, and it gave me my opportunity to pursue the orgasmic revelation of the ultimate shot, that “just one more” all photographers long for. If I’d never taken another live music photograph after this one of Stevie with his head down, I would have been content with the huge exclamation point it was for my imagery. He created unreal Hendrix sounds in “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” during this performance, and he’s ripping the final solo out of his Strat in the picture with equal parts finesse and deadly force. Then he was on to glorious tunes off his latest album, “In Step” as well as choice older songs including “Texas Flood” and “Superstition”. The experience was sublime and unforgettable, and it made me so glad to just be there absorbing the music and the sound, signifying everything.
How I miss those shows!
We’ve also lost the man who co-wrote many of Stevie’s songs, including one of the best, “Change It”. It was my Mom’s favorite Stevie song. Doyle Bramhall passed away 4 years ago this November, but its hard to believe he’s gone, too. That’s such a cliche but it’s so true, and so sad. I recently wrote this:
Doyle Bramhall was Stevie’s friend, vocal influence, and songwriting partner. They also got clean together. Doyle first heard Stevie’s guitar at the Vaughan’s Oak Cliff home while he was waiting to take Jimmie to a gig-he and the elder Vaughan brother played together in a few early bands.
Among the songs he and Stevie wrote: “Dirty Pool”, “Lookin’ Out the Window”, “House is Rockin’”, “Wall of Denial”, “Life By The Drop” and my favorite, “Change It”. That song casts a spell! Similar in tone to Bobby Bland’s “Two Steps from the Blues”, but even more intense. Laden in hope and doom as any Texas flood, a hard rain falling on the dry earth way too fast. It’s not just one of my favorite Stevie/Doyle songs, it’s in my top five. What an amazing person and talent we lost when Doyle passed in November of 2011. We have his music, and his legacy in his family, and his daughter and son Georgia Bramhall and Doyle Bramhall II.
https://youtu.be/7jEZEpVfoE0 Link to Doyle Bramhall II and John Mayer’s beautiful performance of “Change It”
“Change It” by SRV and Double Trouble. Reese Wynan’s playing rocks on this, too. https://youtu.be/NcRMQeGCs0c
25 years. I miss you Stevie, thank God we have the music!