When Jimmie Vaughan strolls onto the 50-yard line at Royal-Memorial Stadium with the entire University of Texas Longhorn Band behind him at halftime of UT’s Thanksgiving game with Texas Tech, he’ll leave no doubt that he was born to play guitar. But not football.
“I started playing guitar because of football,” Vaughan says, launching into a story about his junior high school days in Dallas. Friends told him, “‘If you want to be popular with the girls, you should play football.’ So I went down there and the coach said, ‘OK, next play, run out and catch a pass, let’s see what you can do.’ I mysteriously caught the pass, they piled on me and I broke my collarbone.”
To lift Vaughan’s spirits while he was recovering, his father gave him a guitar. “I was the world’s worst football player,” he concludes with a chuckle. Vaughan had the last laugh, becoming one of the world’s best guitar players.
Vaughan, who will turn 65 in March, served as the official Texas State Musician for 2015, an honorary designation that seems fitting for the memorable year he’s had. After performing at the Austin Music Awards in March, he helped induct his late brother Stevie Ray Vaughan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in April.
He teamed with Steve Miller to launch KGSR’s popular “Blues on the Green” summer concert series in Zilker Park, and earlier this month headlined the annual “Help Clifford Help Kids” benefit at ACL Live in memory of his close friend Clifford Antone. On Dec. 4, he’ll be back in Zilker for “Night Lights,” a Trail of Lights Foundation fundraiser to kick off that long-running holiday tradition.
Playing at halftime of a UT football game is icing on the cake. “You can’t get any more Texas than that,” he figures. “The whole thing is just incredible to me. I could’ve never dreamed it up on my own, to even ask something like that. And why would they even do it?”
Longhorn Band director Scott Hanna can answer that question. “During the summertime, we had some broader conversations about the notion of collaborating with outside artists, in the broadest sense,” he says. “There’s been a little bit of a trend in recent years of college marching bands doing these sorts of things, but more on the pop music side of stuff.
“Over time, we narrowed it down to this more Austin-centric, Texas-centric idea. The opportunity we have in Austin to showcase the talent we have here is something that only we can do. It’s unique to UT and to Austin.”
This isn’t an entirely new notion. The 2008 Texas-Arkansas game featured a halftime performance by hometown western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, whose leader, Ray Benson, will sing the national anthem at Thursday’s game. And live music occasionally has been part of basketball games in the Erwin Center since the 1970s, when local singers such as the late Steven Fromholz performed during halftime.
But Hanna, who’s in his first year as the band’s director after 16 years as associate director, sounds eager to do it more often.
“At this point it’s too early for me to say much about it other than we have some big aspirations, for sure,” he said. “We’ll have more conversations after this football season is over. It’s more of a who-and-when kind of thing, but people are very excited.”
Intriguing possibilities abound. Some are obvious: Willie Nelson presumably would have a standing invitation, and Gary Clark Jr. is another easy call. Others might be riskier but with high rewards. Imagine the full band backing up psychedelic legend Roky Erickson, for example. And would UT invite the obviously musically deserving Dixie Chicks, past political kerfluffles aside?
In any event, Vaughan’s steeped-in-Texas rockin’ blues music provides an ideal place to start. At a rehearsal last week, his voice and guitar rang out loud and clear on a system set up by local company Big House Sound, the full band backing him on his 1995 tune “Boom-Bapa-Boom.” He’ll also perform his brother Stevie’s classic “Texas Flood,” and the band will do two more Stevie tunes as part of their marching program.
For Longhorn Band members, learning Vaughan’s music has been “very much a part of their musical education,” Hanna says. “I think the majority of them didn’t know who Jimmie is, but the ones who have told their parents about it, they invariably said, ‘My parents just went crazy.’ So maybe they’re learning to appreciate their parents’ musical tastes, too.”
No one appreciates the opportunity to bridge the generations more than Vaughan himself. “I’m two or three times older than they are, and I’m not really coming from the same musical school as them; I don’t read music and everything,” he says. But as he took the field with the band and gazed up at the stadium’s towering west side stands, “I was feeling my whole career in front of me, and thinking how amazing it was that this came up,” he says. “It’s just a real trip to be there and doing this thing with all these kids.”