Guitar icon Jimmie Vaughan has weathered severe storms during his decades-long career, and the “therapy” of music has kept him alive and jamming. He struggled with the tragic and sudden death of his brother Stevie Ray Vaughn and recovered from a heart attack last year, but that didn't stop him from hitting the road. He will be performing Wednesday, June 11, with the Tilt-a-Whirl band at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach.
“It’s part of me. It’s hard to separate the guitar from me,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan hasn't been separated from a guitar since he was 12 years old, growing up in Texas, where he couldn't get enough of playing records or listening to the radio. At 13, he broke his collarbone playing football and quickly fell in love with the guitar.
“My father gave me a guitar with three strings thinking that it would keep me out of trouble because I was away from school,” Vaughan said. “I learned how to play pretty quick. I remember thinking, 'I will practice and get really good and I’ll make records. I’ll make some money and go buy a car.' I was motivated and loved it at the same time.”
Vaughan ran away when he was 14 years old, even though he felt guilty for leaving Stevie, who he had became a mentor.
“Stevie watched me trying to figure it out and then after awhile I would put the guitar down and he would pick it up,” he said.
Vaughan started his first band at 15, The Swinging Pendulums, and then joined The Chessman when he was 16 years old. The Chessman opened for Jimi Hendrix when the legend came to Dallas.
“To me he was like Muddy Waters' stepson from outer space,” said Vaughan of Hendrix. “It was like blues from the future.”
Now fully dedicated to the blues, Vaughan formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds with vocalist Kim Wilson in 1976. When he left the band in 1990, they had recorded eight albums and brought the blues to the top 40 with the single “Tuff Enuff” in 1986. Vaughan decided to leave the band for various reasons.
“I had problems,” Vaughan admitted. “We were on the road all the time and I was drinking too much and using and just crazy. I wanted to get off the bus and I started to think about other things. I wanted to make a record with my brother. The record company was asking us for several years, 'Why don’t you guys make a record together.'”
By this time, Jimmie's little brother was well on his way to becoming an icon in his own right. The brothers recorded the album “Family Style” and had a release date, but tragedy struck on Aug. 27, 1990, in East Troy, Wis., when Stevie was touring with his band Double Trouble and Eric Clapton.
“(Stevie) called me and said, 'You have to come up, everybody is going to be here' ... we all flew over there together on the helicopter because we were staying in Chicago,” Vaughan recalled. “After Stevie played, we sat in with Eric. Everybody sat in with Eric – Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Stevie and myself. There were two helicopters and one of the helicopters had an open seat. Stevie wanted to get back to Chicago because he had to do something … he took the open seat and that helicopter crashed, killed them all.”
“Family Style” was released just a few weeks after Stevie's death, but they “didn't know what to do with it.”
“There were a lot of funny songs on the record, some serious ... it was supposed to be a fun record,” Vaughan said. “We had to change the singles.”
Vaughan said he had a hard time facing anyone after the death of his brother.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Vaughan said. “They all wanted to tell me how sorry they were. I appreciated it, but I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t handle it so I stayed away for a few years. Then Eric called me and said, 'Why don’t you come over and play at Royal Albert Hall.' So I got together with my favorite musicians.”
Vaughan is going to honor his brother on Thursday, June 12, a day after his performance at Saint Rocke, when he opens the Stevie Ray Vaughan exhibit as a guest curator at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. As his last living relative, Jimmie inherited his brother's belongings, including his guitars.
“It’s a bitter sweet thing,” Vaughan said. “You can never get over something like this. I have a happy life now ... it's hard to revisit that, but people want it and I’m excited to show it for the first time. He has a lot of fantastic fans.”
Vaughan continued touring after he had two stints put in after his heart attack early last year. His recovery time wasn't long, but he blames a bad tooth on the heart attack.
“I never had cavities or tooth replacements or anything like that, I’ve always had really good teeth,” he said. “I had a broken tooth in the back ... I didn’t know it and the inflammation I believe caused the heart attack. I had that pulled as soon as I found out. I think I’m in great shape, great health.”
Vaughan released his first solo album, “Strange Pleasure,” in 1994, and his last, “Plays, Blues, Ballads and Favorites,” in 2010. Vaughan has been busy recording new music and said he has a new album “halfway going in the can.”
“I like to wait around until I have to do it, like I want to do it real bad,” he said. “I’m in between studios, working on it. I’ve still got a lot of songs to do.”
For more information, visit jimmievaughan.com.