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Ex–Fabulous Thunderbird and former Santa Cruz BluesFest headliner Jimmie Vaughan steams into Santa Cruz this weekend.
The Blues Brother
Jimmie Vaughan talks about Stevie Ray, his new album and why Al Sharpton and Glenn Beck should get a room
By Curtis Cartier
WHEN HE WAS A KID, Jimmie Vaughan used to take the bus to the music stores in downtown Dallas and stare through the windows at the guitars, dreaming of the day he'd buy his own Fender Stratocaster. When he turned 14, he left home to join a band. Once he'd earned enough money to get his dream ax, he took to rewiring the pickups and monkeying with the frets, trying to get just the right Latin-tinged blues sound he was looking for. Today, Fender makes the "Jimmie Vaughan Tex Mex Strat," just like his old custom mods, and ships him a new one whenever he asks. Not bad for a guy who's had to live in the shadow of his little brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan, for most of his career.
"I feel very lucky," Vaughan says over the phone in a soft Texas drawl as he gears up to hit the road, one stop of which includes two nights at Moe's Alley this week. "I mean, when I was a kid I didn't have a guitar, and I definitely didn't have a Fender Stratocaster. I used to call my friends and say, 'I heard your brother has a new guitar. Can I come over and play it?'"
At 59, Vaughan has aged into a lean Harvey Keitel lookalike whose face remains surprisingly unravaged by a lifetime in the rock business. After leaving Dallas in the mid-'60s, Vaughan spent the '70s playing around Austin until 1979, when he made his most famous mark with the critically adored blues-rock act the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He left the group in 1990 to cut a duo album with his brother and has spent the last 16 years as a solo artist, defining his less-is-more approach to the blues on five well-received albums. His latest effort, Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites, sees the bluesman covering a handful of songs he "worships" from guys like Jimmy Reed, Little Richard and Willie Nelson. It's the first time he's strayed from original material. "I hold these songs up as examples and as ideals," he says of his new disc. "It was a little scary when I got into it, but it turned out good. I tried to do it like I was making singles."
Little Brother Stevie
The impact of Stevie Ray's death on Jimmie can't be overstated. As a kid, Jimmie had been the first of the two to get a guitar and join a band, and Stevie—though his parents tried to "put the clamp on him"—wasn't far behind. In 1990, when the helicopter carrying him to a Chicago concert to play alongside Eric Clapton crashed, the younger Vaughan was already widely recognized as one of the most talented guitarists in the world. Jimmie Vaughan still chokes up talking about it.
"It's been 20 years and it's something I'll never get over," he says, his voice cracking with emotion. "There's nothing I can do and it's just horrible. It's so horrible that it feels like it can't be real, but it is."
Vaughan is a dedicated Libertarian activist and a stalwart supporter of Congressman Ron Paul. In 2008 he played several opening gigs at Paul rallies. And if he's got some choice words for progressive lefties, he's got just as many for Tea Party types and media pundits.
"I think we have a phony right wing and a phony left wing. I think that Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton are about the same. They should get an apartment together," he says. "Ron Paul is a constitutionalist and a hard money guy and I like that. If you really look at what Ron Paul's saying it's not what Glenn Beck or the Tea Party's saying. It's anti-war, it's free market."
Whatever his politics, there's no doubt that Jimmie Vaughan plays a mean blues guitar. And while the model he owns today may be a signature ax with his name in the title, he's never lost his respect for the future blues gods who are still saving their allowance money and staring through the music store windows. He's also never forgotten his fans.
"To the Santa Cruz folks, you know I've played there plenty of times and always have a good time," he says. "So get ready, we're coming!"
JIMMIE VAUGHAN plays Friday–Saturday, Sept. 10–11, at 9pm at Moe's Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $30 at
www.moesalley.com or 831.479.1854.
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