Jimmie Vaughan: Keeping the Blues Alive, His Way by Todd Beebe

Photos by Chuck Lanza

It is always a special honor to speak with an icon in any field. Jimmie Vaughan has carried the torch for the blues since he first came on the scene in the 1960’s. His band The Fabulous Thunderbirds paved the way for many blues – rockers from the ‘70’s into the ‘80’s, and Vaughan’s amazing solo career continues to inspire, right into 2019. Along with his brother Stevie Ray, the Vaughan Brothers have become household names for all things Blues. Jimmie has a new album, Baby, Please Come Home, which shows him at the top of his game. Loaded with great tunes and stellar playing and vocals, it is a must have for music lovers of any genre. I caught up with Jimmie recently and we talked all about the new album, his early years in Austin, and what inspires him when he’s writing a song. We even get the real story of the famous Jimi Hendrix “broken wah wah pedal tale.” It was so great to speak with Jimmie and to thank him personally for all of the influence he and his brother have had on myself and the entire world. Thanks so much for speaking with me Jimmie and thanks for keeping the blues alive!

Todd Beebe: Hey Jimmie! Thanks so much for talking to me today- it’s a real honor for me, so thank you!

Jimmie Vaughan: Oh thank you Todd, you’re very welcome!

TB: What are your first memories of music Jimmie? Not necessarily the blues, but just music in general?

JV: Well I always loved music! My uncles on both sides of the family played music and were in bands. On my mother’s side, my uncle played guitar. They liked country and western like real Merle Travis and Bob Wills and all that stuff. Then on my dad’s side, one of his cousins played with Tommy Dorsey and he played trombone. Then my other cousin on my dad’s side played drums and bass guitar. So I was just around a lot of that and my dad knew a bunch of musicians. When I was a little kid I was around a lot of guitar playing and stuff like that. So when I finally started playing, you know, it was just laid out!

TB: You are influenced by the blues of course but I believe you were also heavily influenced by the 50’s rockabilly guys like Scotty Moore and Paul Burlison right?

JV: Absolutely! All of the ‘50’s stuff! I started playing like in the early ‘60’s, in Dallas. It was pretty amazing, just all the music that was around. There was a lot of guitar playing and a lot of cool bands everywhere! Even at school there were bands, you know!?

TB: I was great friends with Jerry Lee Lewis’ guitar player, Roland Janes. You played Roland in the Great Balls Of Fire Movie.

JV: Yeah! I got to meet him before that, because we used to record in Memphis a lot. He was a fantastic musician and a cool guy! And Paul Burlison too, I was always a big fan of the Rock ‘n Roll Trio.

TB: Yeah Paul was great! Now did Roland kind of work with you, giving you pointers and how things were for the movie?

JV: Well I kind of already knew about it because I was a big fan. Dennis Quaid wanted real musicians, and we did it in Memphis. So we were actually at Sun Studios and my band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds was already in Memphis recording. So we were making a record while we were making the movie, while we were doing all that stuff! So it was a fun time!

TB: So I’ve heard that when you started out playing with your bands in Dallas, it wasn’t quite what you were looking for, which lead to you moving to Austin. Was Austin drastically different than anywhere else?

JV: Well, at that time in Dallas, a lot of the bands were like, cover bands. So if they hired a band, they would want you to play a certain thing that was on the radio or something. I had been playing in Austin with one of my early bands that were real popular at fraternity parties. So that’s how I got introduced to Austin. But I started sneaking around in Austin and there was a lot of what they called “beatnik bands”, that didn’t play what was popular, if you know what I mean. They would play whatever they wanted! Like, there were bands like the 13th Floor Elevators. Have you ever heard of them?

TB: Oh yeah! Always loved that name!!

JV: It wasn’t stuff that was on the AM radio. It was sort of like a San Francisco hippie scene in Austin. So I thought to myself, “if they’ll let these guys play this stuff, they’ll let me play blues!” So that was my thinking, and so I just did it, and most of the stuff I just didn’t know any better and I just did it anyway, you know?! And then I started meeting people that liked Blues also, and there was a couple of good musicians around Austin that liked blues. There was a guy named Bill Campbell that I met and he was playing in a blues band and stuff like Freddy King and those kind of things were real popular.

TB: OK, so what’s the story we’ve all heard about your band opening for Jimi Hendrix and Hendrix broke your wah wah pedal or something?

JV: No, no, no!! I’ll tell you the… you wanna know the truth or the….?? (laughs)

TB: No, let’s get the truth- from the man himself!! (laughs)

JV: (laughs) OK! So, what really happened was, I was in a band called the Chessmen, who I was telling you about earlier. We had 45’s out in Dallas, and they were all 21 and I was 15. We would open for people when they came to town, like big stars that had hits. We opened for The Mamas and the Papas, we opened for different shows when they would come through town. So Hendrix came to town and we got to open for Hendrix. It was on a Saturday night, so the music stores were closed. Hendrix had busted his wah wah pedal. Well, that was part of his sound! So I had a brand new one, and they came to me and they said “look kid, (laughs), we’ll give you 150 bucks for your wah wah pedal, and you can go buy a new one on Monday.” I said “fine!” And then they gave me his! And I got to meet Hendrix and his band and everything, and it was a trip! To be 15 and being on a show with Jimi Hendrix himself! I can remember what Hendrix did when he was tuning up backstage and, you know… it was just a trip! As you can imagine!

TB: Oh yeah! I’m sure that was a story that Stevie was jealous of huh!? (laughs)

JV: Yeah! Well at that time, let’s see if I’m 15, Stevie was 11 I guess. So you know, he couldn’t come! (laughs) So that was it, that’s the story!

TB: Well it’s great to get that story directly from you, cause we’ve all heard it so many times, the wrong way! So thank you for sharing that!

JV: Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard people say “well, Jimi Hendrix loved Jimmie Vaughan’s wah wah pedal so much that he wanted to buy it from him!” It wasn’t that at all. It was just that he broke his and he didn’t have one. He needed it to do his show, so I gave him mine and he gave me $150 bucks and I went and bought a new one that next Monday. The stores were closed on Saturday night.

TB: So as you started to play gigs more and more, when was the first time you felt like “now I’m in the big time!”?

JV: Well, when I was like 14 we got a gig at this place in the summertime. I had a little trio with kids from school. We got a gig playing six nights a week at a place called The Hob Nob Lounge in Dallas. So my dad would take us over there. We loaded our stuff in the back of his pickup truck and he would take us over there, or one of the other dads would tell the wife’s “oh darn honey, I gotta take the kids to the club tonight”, you know! (laughs) And so the dads would argue over who had to take the poor kids over to this gig, and most of the time they were all three there! (laughs) So it was a fun time for everyone!

TB: That’s great! As far as songwriting goes when you sit down to write something, is there anything particular that inspires you? Do you come up with the lyrics first or the music first? How do you approach it?

JV: It can be a riff or it can be a phrase or it can be just a thought. Usually it’s kind of like a flash, but you have to get yourself in the mood. It’s a pretty magical kind of a feeling that comes over you. When you’re going to write songs you have to sit down everyday and say “okay I’m going to write something that’s me.” I’m saying you have to practice doing it. You can’t get out of practice. I’m giving myself advice here! (laughs) You have to sit down and say “I’m going to write something today.” But usually you come up with the idea first. It’s just a thought, or a catchphrase or a riff on the guitar or something like that. Somebody says something and you hear it and you go “okay!” Have you ever heard my song Out There?

TB: Oh yeah! I love that whole album!

JV: Thanks! Yeah, that’s from like 20 years ago or something. I remember sitting down, I had a bedroom with amps and guitars and stuff in it and I sat down and I said “I don’t know what’s coming, but I can feel something coming!” I think it was kind of a jazz song or a jazz album called Out There by Bill Doggett, something triggered my curiosity, and I thought “that would be a good song! Out There! I’m going to go out there for you! I’m going out there with you!” You know what I mean? So I made a song out of it. But it’s more like a feeling that comes over you, but you have to set yourself up for it. You have to take the time and sit down and do it. That’s the hard part, because the writing of it is not hard. It’s to actually make yourself get into the space and the mind set.

TB: Now do you write a lot? In the modern age do you throw ideas down on a phone or something versus writing them down like we used to do years back?

JV: No. Most of my songs have been written on a cassette player, but none of us have cassette players anymore! It can happen any different number of ways.

TB: I’ve always loved your attitude about practicing your craft. I’ve read many times where you’ve said you practice all the time and keep your chops up. I think that’s great, because a lot of people get to the point where they just start to coast. Especially established artists.

JV: Yeah, I play every day! It’s very rare that I don’t play for a whole day. It could be for an hour, it could be for 10 minutes, it could be for 2 hours. I’m saying on days that I don’t have a gig or rehearsal you know? I feel like I get warmed up and then you just keep it going instead of quitting and then starting over.

TB: Right! I love your voice! It’s amazing to think there was a time when you didn’t sing at all! Do you do anything to keep your voice in shape?

JV: Well I should do more! I have a book by a guy who tells you how to warm up and everything, but usually you just get to the gig and after a couple of days rehearsal your voice is kind of ready to go. I don’t know how to explain it. But there is always a point where you just have to get out there and you have to put yourself out there and take it, you know what I mean? Whatever happens, you do the best you can, but it doesn’t always work out. Once you get going, if you’re playing every night, then you’re okay! But you got to get over that hump! (laughs)

TB: For many years you just played guitar. What made you start singing?

JV: Well, I never sang in the T-Birds. When I was a teenager I tried to sing, and I was listening to Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy and all these records. They were great singers, and so when I sang it was like (imitates a kids voice) “I sound like this, you know, I sound like a little dumb kid!” (laughs) So I thought well, maybe I could just play and nobody will know that I’m a little dumb kid, you know what I mean? (laughs) And then later on I had to either sing or go home, is the way it felt. I’ll tell you a story. When I did Family Style with Stevie, we thought of all these songs that we were going to show to the producer, Nile Rogers. And most of mine were instrumentals, because I didn’t sing. I didn’t sing on stage. Maybe in the shower, but that was it! (laughs) So we got to the meeting with Nile, and Stevie and I played all these instrumentals for him, and then Stevie had a song that he sang that he wrote with Doyle, big Doyle Bramhall. So he played that and then Nile looked at me and said “what are you gonna sing?” And I said “well, I don’t really sing.” And he said “well, you do now!” And so it was one of those situations where I had to either put up or shut up, you know?! And so, that actually is a better way to have it, for me. I mean I just had to step forward and sing anyway. So the first song that I sang was Good Texan, which I wrote. If you’re worried about singing, and you want to sing, just write your own song. Because who can say whether you sang it good or not?!

TB: That’s a great point!

JV: I mean, we’re talking about being desperate here! (laughs) You know, desperate is a good way to play music! (laughs)

TB: (laughs) Right! You and Stevie did so much for reviving the blues. I mean, for people like us it never went away, but I’m talking as far as to the public. Did either of you ever feel like you were on a mission, so to speak, to do that specifically? Or were you just doing your thing?

JV: No, to be honest we were just doing what we loved. It was not something that was real popular with the record companies at the time. The record companies wanted to do pop music or something crazy. So we just had to do it anyway! If you love something, you just have to do it! I’m talking about music or art. You just have to do it anyway, you know what I mean?

TB: Absolutely! Now, the new album has a very “old school” feel to it, I love it! Did you do anything different with this one?

JV: No, I’ve sort of evolved into my own way of doing it. We basically get in the studio and play live. Because then you get that feel of the band playing with each other, and I have great musicians that play with me. We get in there, and then if I have to re sing the vocal, I do. Or if I want to add a little part I will, but most of the time it’s live.

TB: I love how you put Hold It on there and it is live, but it’s midway through the album. So, it’s like an intermission, and then the album picks up again!

JV: Yeah! Well when I was a kid, that song was the break song for every band in Dallas-Fort Worth!

TB: Really!?

JV: Oh yeah! Even the country bands did that! Every band had a version of Hold It!

TB: Oh wow! That’s very interesting. Now how do you approach playing with the Jimmie Vaughan Trio differently than playing with horns and everything? Do you do anything drastically different?

JV: Well the truth about that is, when that started it was the Mike Flanigin Trio, and I just started playing guitar with him. Then the record company said “we should put your name on there. Because more people know you than they know him, right now.” That’s really how that worked. But I started playing with him. He had the gig, and I started playing guitar with him just for straight fun! He plays with us now on the road. We do some of that stuff from the live album in the middle of our set.

TB: I always like to ask this question. It’s kind of a hard one to answer. You have tons of music left to make and many great years ahead of you. But 3,000 years from now, how does Jimmie Vaughan want to be remembered?

JV: I would like to be remembered as somebody who loved to play, and was trying to play what he felt, you know, play his heart.

TB: Well that’s a great answer, cause you definitely do!

JV: I just enjoy playing, so that’s why I do it! I love my job, let’s put it that way!

TB: That’s a great answer! Thank you so much for talking to me today Jimmie, it’s an honor!

JV: Well, you’re very welcome Todd!

TB: I’d like to end on a personal note. I’ve always wanted to tell you “thank you”, personally. I want to thank you for what you and Stevie have done for me and blues lovers across the world. I can’t thank you enough. Your music has really touched me and so many others, and what you and Stevie have done to keep the blues and real music alive is something that myself and so many others can never thank you both enough for. So thank you, to you and your brother for that. It’s great to say “thank you” to you personally.

JV: Well thank you Todd! That’s great. Thank you! I’ll see you somewhere down the road!

Make sure to pick up the new album, Baby, Please Come Home, and keep up with Jimmie on his website and Facebook:





BG is a free magazine bringing you stories about Buddy Guy's Legends, blues music, and music generally. Please direct submissions to [email protected] for consideration.

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BG is a free magazine bringing you stories about Buddy Guy's Legends, blues music, and music generally. Please direct submissions to [email protected] for consideration.