Things I Used to Do – A Day With Stevie Ray

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Yesterday, Dr. Joe Vitale and I went to the Austin Guitar show.

If ever there was a day to steal a vintage guitar, this was it. Joe found a ’39 Gibson treasure… it just walked up to him. I’m looking for a couple of specific things- a D’Aquisto “cat-eye” F-hole guitar and a boutique amp. I found the amp- or at least the guy who is gonna make the amp. We left behind a treasure trove of great deals.

I don’t know if the vintage guitar fetish has run its course, or if this was just a slow show- but the dealers were starving and slashing prices. There was also a vintage record show and a vintage poster show.

One guy had found his niche and was making money hand over fist, though. Craig Hopkins, who runs the Stevie Ray Vaughn fanclub, has written a very detailed book on Stevie Ray. There are pics, set-lists, stories, interviews- it’s the most complete and best researched book I’ve ever seen on a celebrity.

At $75 a copy, those books were selling like donuts at a cop convention. I had to stand in line to buy mine.

Craig also owns the Stevie Ray Vaughan museum. He’s got an amazing collection of Stevie Ray stuff. His book reminds me of a college text-book. It’s heavy, thick, indexed, and full of arcane trivia. If you’re into Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’re gonna want this book. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Later, Joe, Bill Hibbler, and I met up for dinner, cigars and conversation at our local secure and undisclosed location. Bill and I both grew up in the Rock and Roll world, and we tried to explain to Joe, and Bruce Collie, who joined us, about Austin in the 70’s.

Bill knows “the deal,” ’cause he was managing Steve Marriot and other rock stars at the time. He told stories about parties on the bus, life on the road, and tales of the reality of the fantasy of rock and roll at that time.

I was a minor rock star in Austin when Stevie Ray was coming up. Joe and Bruce looked at us kinda funny as we tried to explain that, at the time, Stevie Ray was just one of many great guitar players based out of Texas. A lot of people claim that they knew at the time that Stevie Ray was gonna go all the way.

That’s bull.

It could’a been Derek O’Brien. It could’a been Van Wilks- and almost was. It should have been Marc Benno. That guy from Point Blank… what’s his name? Bugs Henderson, Rocky Hill, that guy from Beaumont whose name I never can remember… It could have been me.

We ALL knew Eric Johnson would “make it,” but Eric is a mutant alien from the guitar planet and was playing like a god when he was a teenager. Check out a copy of the ElectroMagnets album, if you can find one. Your jaw will hit the ground.

Back in “the day,” I was in a band called “Fools,” and we were managed by Bill Ham, who also managed ZZ Top, Eric Johnson (ask Eric about it sometime, LOL), Point Blank… we practiced at the Austin Rehearsal complex (ARC- as in Arc-Angels) behind the Austin Opry House. Next door to our rehearsal room, Chris Geppert was working on tunes for his first album, between playing frat parties and high-school proms. You’ve heard it as Christopher Cross’ first album. Multi-platinum.

Next to him, Eric Johnson was putting together his band. Down the hall, Stevie Ray was rehearsing with Tommy Shannon (the ghost of the ARC), and Chris Layton.

There were times when I would walk down the hall and stop outside each door, thinking I was in the right place at the right time.

Occasionally, Billy Gibbons would drop by, and the guitar players would all sit in a circle and trade licks and stories, and share recreational party favors. It was magic.

After touring with Cheap Trick, Heart, ZZ Top, and several other major acts, and getting signed by Mercury Phonogram, I’d had about enough of the Bill Ham experience. I decided to be a “Fool” no more, and quit the band.

Later, my room-mate and I were out drinking at the Continental Club, and W.C. Clark’s band was playing. Their keyboard player was lame and I was drunk. I walked up to W.C. and told him he should hire me to play keys for his band. He let me sit in and I kicked ass. You don’t get many of these in a lifetime, but for once, I had “a moment.”

He immediately fired his keyboard player and hired me. That’s how it’s done in East Austin, where W.C. learned the biz.

The last time I saw this guitar case was in Antones, back when it was on Guadalupe street. I was playing with the W.C., and we played Antones regularly.

Talk about magic. We’d play Thursdays- and the bands that were going to play over the weekend would come in, slip into Clifford’s office, and kinda float out. Then they wanted to jam. I got to play with a lot of my heroes through the years, including Hubert Sumlin and B.B. King.

One night, Chris was sitting in with us on drums- our regular drummer, Frosty, was off with Delbert McClinton that night. At the end of the night, Stevie Ray, who was driving the truck to Dallas for their Friday night gig, pulled up to pick up Chris and his drums. He wanted to sit in.

Tommy Shannon walked up and took Skipper’s bass.

There were maybe 12 people sitting in the darkened club. It was no big deal. “Things I used to do- A flat,” he said. Then he put his fingers on the guitar and played what looked like an “A” Chord. Confused, I had to confirm that we were actually playing in A flat. That’s when I found out that he tuned his guitar a half-step low. Duh.

Chris counted us in, and Stevie Ray played it through once. LOUD. His jaw jutted out. His eyes were closed. That’s when it became a big deal. He played as if there were 30,000 people listening. He pulled notes out of the sky, and lightning flashed from his fingers.

I’ve played with most of the great guitar players from Texas. I ain’t never heard nothin’ like that before. Or since. That was the only time I ever heard Stevie Ray play live.

After that, things happened fast. There was a live boot-leg tape that got picked up by the local radio station. Stevie Ray played on a David Bowie album, which generated a lot of buzz. After a while, the local clubs couldn’t afford him, and we didn’t see much of him. He was on the road.

Then he was just a voice- and guitar- on the radio.

Shortly after that, I had to leave Austin for “health” reasons. I didn’t have the personality or the stamina to be a rock star, and I would’a been just another casualty if I had stayed. People were just too caring and sharing with their stimulants at the time, and I was just a boy who couldn’t say no. So, I moved behind the Pine Curtain, gained a little weight, and took off on the path that- eventually- led me here.

Stevie Ray, of course, became a bigger than life rock diety. He beat the drugs. He survived the tours- the buses, the crappy hotels, the awful back-stage food, and the temptations. He was three years sober when he played Alpine Valley with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Robert Cray…

After that show, he climbed in a helicopter for the quick ride back to the hotel- and joined Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and the rest of the mythic heroes in that great jam session in the sky.

I was living in Huntsville at the time, and I went to the local bar that afternoon to have a beer and see what was shakin’. There was a small group of people, crying, drinking too much, and putting quarters in the juke box. Playing Stevie Ray records over and over.

I grabbed a Shiner Bock and sat alone.

Do I regret not sticking it out in Austin and taking my chances?

Nope. Not really.

There’s a world of difference between being a musician and being a rock star, and it takes a certain mentality and determination to be a rock star that I just didn’t have. Once you’re there, it can be easy street, but the cemeteries, drug rehab units, and mental hospitals are littered with the ones who didn’t have that strength and didn’t get out in time. I suspect that would’a been my story.

Leaving saved my life.

Stevie Ray had it.

Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane.

Rock on.

Pat O’Bryan is the CEO of Practical Metaphysics, Inc. and Director of the Milagro Research Institute. He is the author of several books on Internet Marketing, including the best-seller, “Your Portable Empire- How To Make Money From Anywhere Doing What You Love.”

Work at Home, or From Anywhere

He has taught thousands of people how to work from home, or from anywhere through his books, UnSeminars, and his coaching program.

Pat lives in Wimberley, Texas, and Terlingua, Texas.

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Comments

  1. Great article that still Lives On! Thanks, Mark for sharing Pat’s excellent story of this memory. I felt as if I was IN the experience. What a time it must have been. Stevie was One of My Favorites too, along with the others mentioned that he joined, may they All RIP.

  2. Susan thank you for the comment.

    This article touched my heart too. That’s why full attribution to the author, Pat O’Bryan, is included. I am not Pat and I did not write the post you reference. Just a copy and paste.

    Might I suggest going over to Gravatar and setting up a link for a profile picture (it’s free) to follow you around the web?

    Any comments feel much warmer and fuzzier when there’s a face to go along with them. Anyway thank you for reading and commenting!

    How might I help with your business?

  3. Your story touched my heart. Thanks for sharing it.