When Alan Paul and Andy Aledort kicked around the idea of an oral history of Stevie Ray Vaughan, they knew they had a decent amount of material to work with.
Both were veteran music journalists. Paul, a longtime contributor to publications like Guitar World, had already published “One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.” Aledort also contributed to Guitar World, and he was a guitar instructor who had played with Dickey Betts & Great Southern and Double Trouble.
Paul had also written a 10,000-word piece in 1999 about Vaughan’s life and death, nine years after the helicopter crash that took Vaughan’s life at the age of 35. Aledort had interviewed him, his family and his friends multiple times for various projects.
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So, they looked at their combined interviews with Stevie Ray, brother Jimmie, members of Double Trouble and various friends.
“We had about 50,000 words of interviews before we even got to do new ones,” Paul says, rather dryly. Along with Aledort, we are talking on a conference call with comically lousy sound.
These two fellows were perhaps uniquely positioned to put together the amazing “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” a massive, exceptionally smooth oral history of perhaps the most beloved musician (not named Willie) in Austin past, present and probably future.
It’s a mighty thorough tome, starting with Stevie’s complicated home life (of his father, Stevie once said, “I learned to be afraid all the time”) and his early blues fandom (Stevie: “There was just not a question" that blues was the best music. "It slayed me”).
“Texas Flood” chronicles Vaughan's early gigs at the tender age of 16 in and around Dallas and Austin; his work with the Cobras; his solos for and falling out with David Bowie; his recordings with Double Trouble that still stun guitarists; and his epic live prowess. It's also a wonderful look at Austin in the 1970s and ’80s, a town that knew it had a historic player on its hands before anyone else did.
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The book doesn’t shy away from Vaughan's descent into a miasma of drugs and booze, but it gives him plenty of credit for getting his life back together before his tragic death.
Both authors say that Aledort in particular had extraordinary material, the sort of thing “you could only get when it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve been hanging out all day and everyone has their guard down,” Paul says.
“The more you know that other people don’t know makes you realize how many directions a story of this size can go in,” Aledort says. Vaughan lived a big, messy, epic life full of rock-star luxury — I am particularly fond of SRV flying in barbecue in from Sam’s Bar-B-Que to Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” sessions, which impressed the hell out of producer Nile Rodgers — and rock-star excess.
Aledort saw Vaughan for the first time in 1984 in a 300-count room after “Texas Flood” had been released. “It was an absolutely mind-blowing show,” Aledort says.
He first interviewed Vaughan in 1986 for a magazine called Guitar for the Practicing Musician.
“I showed up with a guitar and an amp,” Aledort says. “He came in and we started to jam a bit on a slow shuffle. I eventually put down the guitar to start the interview, and Stevie said, ‘Aw, I thought we were just gonna have fun.’” It is obvious Aledort loves this story as much as anything Vaughan-related.
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Take a look at that date, though: 1986. Vaughan was still a bit of a mess there, mired in drugs and alcohol. Soon, he would clean himself up and start moving in new directions with his music.
Then, in 1990, just four years later, it was over.
“We were pretty much done with the book,” Paul says, “and I started thinking about how we all remember where we were when John Lennon died.” Ten phone calls later, Paul had a sketch of what Austin was like in the hours and days after Vaughan’s death, a passing so seemingly cruel in light of his sobriety that some folks simply stopped believing in God after that.
I myself happened to be in Ocean Park, Maine, with my family on Aug. 27, 1990, all of 16 years old. The next day, a shrine to Vaughan had been set up in the little diner we would sometimes hit for breakfast. Never let it be said the man didn’t have fans everywhere.
“There was so, so much excitement about what he would do next,” Paul says. “In a lot of ways, his story is that of an unrequited love between an artist and his fans.”