Missed seeing him play live at Austin clubs or on stages around the world?
You’ve no doubt heard his scorching guitar riffs on radio or on recordings. Maybe you’ve walked around the statue of him on the hike-and-bike trail at Vic Mathias Shores.
Few names in the constellation of Austin music stars have shone as bright as Stevie Ray Vaughan. The story of his life — an all-too-short one that ended at the age of 35 in 1990 — deserves remembering in any form.
Austinites and visitors can listen to his music and see artifacts of his riveting time in the spotlight in a new exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. The major retrospective of this extraordinary blues and rock musician is open through July 23.
Taking up a large room just off the museum’s rotunda lobby, “Pride and Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan” is a work of artful display and love. Stevie’s older brother, Jimmie Vaughan, added pieces from his personal collection for the Austin exhibit. This is the last stop after presentations at the Grammy Museums in Los Angeles and Cleveland, Miss., and at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla.
The guitars, clothing, notebooks, recordings and photos span Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life from his boyhood in Dallas when he learned to play on Jimmie’s guitars, to making his own name in mostly long-gone Austin clubs. The exhibit also, of course, covers his rise to the top and his six Grammy awards.
Just four years after Stevie Ray Vaughan took his addictions into recovery and returned to stages and studios, he was killed after an outdoor show in Wisconsin. The helicopter that was taking him back to his Chicago hotel slammed into a dark mountainside. That was Aug. 27, 1990, and the reaction by hundreds of his Austin fans was to flood into Zilker Park with candles, prayers, songs and guitars.
Jimmie Vaughan had the idea for a touring exhibit and was supported by Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museums. For the Austin show, Jimmie was eager to talk about his brother’s history as Bullock museum workers completed the installation.
He walked first to a wall of musicians who influenced him and Stevie. Represented with their guitars, albums and photos were the greats T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Lonnie Mack, and the lesser-known Dallas rockabilly blues band the Nightcaps.
“The Nightcaps’ record right here, ‘Wine, Wine, Wine,’ was the first album I ever owned,” Jimmie Vaughan said during installation. “I was just a kid when it came out (1962). There were lots of songs about wine-drinking then.”
In the 1920s, T-Bone Walker, a Texas-born pioneer of the electric guitar, was once billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone. He lived in the same Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff where the Vaughans grew up in the 1950s and ’60s.
Jimmie Vaughan pointed to a photo of Walker playing guitar as burlesque queen Lottie “the Body” Graves danced out front. “She was more famous than him then. And look at all those orchestra players behind him,” said Jimmie Vaughan.
In another corner of the exhibit is a case that, in simple fashion, takes note of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sudden death. A metal cross he was wearing at the time of the helicopter crash is there, along with a condolence letter to his mother, Martha Vaughan, from President George H.W. Bush.
The president wrote that Stevie, who performed at an inaugural event, “was a man who left this world a far happier place than when he entered it.”
“I didn’t want to make this part of the exhibit a sad thing, like, you know, with the Louvin Brothers,” Jimmie Vaughan said. He described how the country singer Charlie Louvin would play in the style of his brother Ira long after Ira died in a car wreck in 1965.
“Stevie and I did stuff together, but I couldn’t play like him and it wouldn’t have worked to have this exhibit that way,” he said. “Stevie made people happy. He was a real, sweet guy and not just my brother.”
The exhibit’s focus on celebrating Stevie’s life, he said, “is helping me live with Stevie’s death.”
Jimmie Vaughan said his younger brother (by four years) had a great sense of humor. He moved over to some items where that is evident.
A piece of cardboard made into a dressing-room sign by Stevie Ray Vaughan put his touring crew on notice: “Don’t even consider opening this door without asking Mr. Vaughan! – Your Employer.”
Jimmie Vaughan also laughed at a poster for the 1987 “Back to the Beach” movie reuniting Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Atop a carload full of the movie’s characters is Stevie Ray Vaughan and his guitar. He played “Pipeline” on the soundtrack.
A feather headdress for an Indian chief sits in a nearby display case. “I bought that for him at some shop in Oklahoma. I mean, what to get Stevie Ray Vaughan? He wore it at least once on stage,” Jimmie Vaughan said.
Other cases feature some of the splendorous hats that Stevie Ray Vaughan favored: berets before stardom and then a bright red hat, a black hat with a white plume, broad-brim hats with silver conch shells.
The tools of his trade are displayed: several of his well-used electric guitars, including a double-necked guitar that he and Jimmie played together. A selection of Stevie’s touring amps, switch boxes and effects pedals.
One of his earliest guitars, dubbed “Number One” and later emblazoned with SRV, was a Fender Stratocaster bought in 1974 when Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing small Austin clubs. He continued to play the guitar — and had it rebuilt more than once — throughout his career. He also referred to it as “The Wife.”
Among the interactive exhibits is a guitar connected to five pedals that visitors can press and listen to the sounds on headphones. There are also stations to hear albums and watch video interviews with Jimmie, Gary Clark Jr. and Reese Wynans, who played in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble band for its last five years.
Double Trouble’s mainstays for a decade were drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. Layton’s drum kit and Shannon’s bass guitar are in the exhibit with some of their dressier outfits.
Handwritten drafts of some of the song lyrics Stevie Ray Vaughan wrote are displayed. Jimmie Vaughan pointed out one with the curious title of “Sweet Thing.” Before it was released as the first single off his first album in 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan renamed the song “Pride and Joy.”
The fullness of this exhibit at the Bullock will reinforce the view of fans that Stevie Ray Vaughan was, indeed, our pride and joy. The music he left behind continues to marvel and move us.
“Pride and Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan”
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, now through July 23
Where: Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress Ave.
Tickets: $13 adults, $11 military, seniors and students, $9 children ages 4-17
“Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience”
In a smaller room at the Bullock Texas State History Museum next to the Stevie Ray Vaughan exhibit is a look at what festivals have meant for musicians and their fans for the past six decades. Featured gatherings include Newport, Woodstock, Monterey, Farm Aid, Live Aid and Lollapalooza. The exhibit is from the collections of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Open through July 23.