When guitarist Jimmie Vaughan was a lad, a friend told him that if he wanted to attract girls, he needed to play football.
“I didn’t like football,” Vaughan said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “But I did like girls.”
Vaughan tried out for the team and caught a pass thrown to him by the coach. Then he was tackled by his teammates.
They broke his collarbone.
At home with his arm in one of those slings that make a person look like he’s permanently waving, Vaughan had a conversation with his father.
“I don’t know what to do with you,” his dad said. Then his dad picked up a guitar. “Here,” he said. “Play this guitar and try to stay out trouble.”
Vaughan may not have always heeded the second part of that advice, but he sure as heck followed the first.
Guitar and His Little Brother
Vaughan is the older brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. When they were kids, Jimmie had a real guitar and Stevie Ray had a toy guitar.
“I would put down my guitar,” Vaughan said. “I was 12 and he was 8. And I’d say, ‘Don’t play my guitar.’ But as soon as I was out of the room, he would pick it up.”
Both boys grew up to be popular blues guitarists, each with his distinctive style.
Vaughan said that as soon as he learned the 12-bar blues chord progression (a progression he describes onomatopoeically as “duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh”), he knew that music would be his occupation.
“As soon as I could go ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh,’ I told myself, ‘OK, I’ll just go make hit records and buy a car,’” he recalled. “I was having fun. I didn’t think about it too deeply.”
The monster guitarist when Jimmie Vaughan was a kid was a guy named Lonnie Mack.
“He was really the first Jimi Hendrix,” Vaughan said.
Interestingly, Mack’s career got a second wind around the same time that Stevie Ray was becoming nationally known with Double Trouble and Jimmie was scoring hits with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Hendrix and Other Success
One of Jimmie’s first bands was called the Chessmen.
Jimmie earned $300 a week with the Chessmen performing at frat parties and opening for touring acts.
“This was the mid-sixties,” Vaughan said. “We were teenagers, and I was making more than my father.”
His father was thrilled.
“He said, ‘Son, I am just glad you don’t have to do what I do,’” Vaughan said. “He was an asbestos worker.”
The Chessmen opened for Jimi Hendrix and that was when the legendary “wah-wah pedal episode” happened.
People tend to get the story wrong, Vaughan said.
“It was a Saturday night,” he said. “Music stores were closed. They blew into town. I had a brand-new wah-wah pedal. It cost $27.95.
“He broke his,” Vaughan said. “They had a DeArmond. Nobody wanted a DeArmond. His roadie said, ‘I will give you $100 and our DeArmond. You give us yours and you can go buy a new one next week.’ And I was like, ‘Cool.’”
Vaughan had his biggest commercial success in the 1980s with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
The band was strategic about crafting a sound that would be appealing to the greatest number of people and their reward was several hit songs, including ‘Wrap It Up” and “Tuff Enuff.”
“We wanted to be on the radio,” Vaughan said. “Here’s the thing: When you get in a band and you start doing well and you get a record deal, you want make hit records if you can. You’ve got to appeal to different people. We wanted to play the blues and we always did play the blues.
“When we started getting played on the radio and having hits, we got excited,” he said. “It evolved. You can’t stay the same. You have to keeping going for something.”
After 15 years with the band, Vaughan decided to break away and start a solo career. His first project was an album with his brother.
This was momentous in several senses.
The brothers had both become renowned blues musicians.
But there was a backstory that few people knew.
When the Vaughan brothers were kids, their father would have them play together for visitors, Jimmie on his real guitar and Stevie Ray on his toy guitar.
“We’d play Glenn Miller or something,” Vaughan said. “And I remember one man saying, ‘Hey, you guys are pretty good. You should make a record together someday.’ And we kept hearing that. And here it was finally happening.”
The record they made together was called Family Style.
Shortly after the album was completed, Stevie Ray was killed in a helicopter accident.
“It was completely devasting and I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I couldn’t go play. I said, ‘Well, we can’t release the record now. What am I going to do? I can’t go out on tour. I can’t do anything.’
“It was just too hard,” Vaughan said. “Anyway, it was a good record. I know Stevie liked the record. It was really fun. We had three months together making the record. And then he was gone.”
On Oct. 3, Vaughan helped dedicate some public art commemorating Stevie’s life and art in Dallas’ Kiest Park.
“It’s right around the corner from where we grew up,” Vaughan said. “It’s been 32 years. The artwork is permanent in the park. We all sang ‘Happy Birthday” because it was his birthday.”
He performed “Six Strings Down,” a song he wrote in tribute to his brother.
Vaughan said he felt his brother’s presence that day.
“And my mother and father, too,” he said. “I think a lot of people who have left and gone on were there.”
Vaughan has a photo of his father and mother sitting in the former’s 1947 Ford and the car is parked in the very spot where the commemorative art now stands.
“They would go there,” Vaughan said. “I know it sounds funny, but I feel like they made that day happen.”