Written: February 6, 2015 ©
A Sandwich Uneaten
Downtown Austin, Texas 1978-’79ish; I was sitting at an empty bar waiting for the cold sandwich I had just ordered to arrive, I had spent nearly my last dollar to buy it. It was one of those warm days like you get in the Spring or Fall of the year, 3:30 PM and still not hot. I don’t remember if it was Spring or Fall, but the double doors of the establishment were propped open and the rays of the afternoon sun angled across the room.
Other than myself and the bartender/cook, the place was empty. As I sat there with my back against the bar, waiting for my sandwich, I see this skinny lookin’ kid walk in through the double doors and proceed through the bar where he disappeared from sight around a corner. He looked kinda grungy and I just figured he must work there since he acted like he knew the place.
I can’t see it from where I’m sitting but a few minutes later I figure out that there must be a stage around that corner, ‘cause I just heard someone plug in an amp. I just assumed it must be the band that was slated to play that night coming in for a little rehearsal or something. By this time I’m really wondering where my sandwich is as I listen to the musician in the other room tuning up. I can also remember wishing I had enough money left to buy a coke to go with my sandwich.
I’d come to Austin 2 weeks earlier in search of work, but so far all I had managed to do was party too much and chase girls. This of course resulted in empty pockets, which led me to seek out any kind of work I could find as long as it paid cash, which naturally led me to the downtown bar district and a long fruitless job search, which ended in my lunch stop at the empty bar. I was tired, hungry and broke and it looked like I would soon be returning to my small town home and a job roughnecking on a drilling rig.
This was my first real trip to a “big” city on my own so to speak and I was quickly learning that things were a lil’ different here. Honestly, at that point I was just hoping to make enough money to buy enough gas to get back home. It was painfully obvious that I did not belong in Austin, or any other city. For people like me, Austin is a place you visit to escape the monotony of small-town life, and enjoy the variety that the city offers.
Austin had become “The Place“ to go, and go I did many times thereafter.
I turned on the bar stool to see the bartender bringing my long awaited sandwich. Just as he sets it down in front of me I hear the first vague notes of a guitar riff in the background, I look down at the sandwich (I was really, really hungry) and see something I did not actually recognize. It was supposed to be a turkey sandwich, but this thing has stuff on it that I had never seen before, now I know why it took so long! Needless to say, I’m very disappointed but figure I best just pick the unknown stuff off and eat it. Then I hear the unmistakable sound of an amp being turned way up….then the words; “Closing Time”, followed by the first slap of the guitar strings by the guy that would eventually become my all-time favorite guitarist; bar none. I never took a bite of that damn sandwich.
For the next hour or more I listened to this skinny kid do things to a guitar that I thought only Hendrix was talented enough to do. He barely paid any attention to me and seemed to be off in his own world, in truth I think he was pretty high, but you could tell he was planning it all out in his head. He kept a lit cigarette stuck between the strings of the tuners on his guitar and would take a long drag from time to time without missing a lick. Most of what he played was just spontaneous stuff he kinda strung together from one to another but some of it I recognized. One of the songs he played that day was “Little Wing” and it must have lasted at least 15 minutes. I had heard the Hendrix recording many times, but this was something I had never experienced before. I had completely forgotten about the turkey sandwich at that point.
Unable to resist, I had moved to a small table that provided a stage center view of this amazing unknown guitarist. As I sat there mesmerized, I hadn’t noticed that a small crowd had drifted in and was beginning to fill the room behind me. The sound of the music drifting through the double-doors at the front of the building had drawn them in like moths to a flame.
I was just a dumb-ass kid from backwoods Texas and I didn’t know it at the time but…
That skinny, grungy lookin’ kid was Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Over the years I saw SRV play all over Texas, mostly in the Austin area but also in many small venue joints and dives as well. I’ve seen him play Voodoo Chile with his teeth while standing on a wooden chair at Liberty Lunch in Austin.
I’ve seen him play behind his back, behind his head, squatted behind his legs, between his legs, and continue to play in key with two broken strings. I’ve watched him play an entire song with one hand, and play two leads at the same time when he used both hands. I’ve seen him bend the neck of his guitar so far that I heard it crack from 20 ft. away; he could stretch a note all the way to Dallas! I’ve seen him play while lying flat on his back, with studio precision, because he was too high to stand up.
Every single SRV performance I ever saw, no matter his condition, was flawless.
There are many “good” guitarists out there, and some great guitarists, but SRV was in a category all his own. He could do more with a guitar when he was blind drunk than most could do on their best day. I can think of no other single guitarist who could come before him in my book, and I suspect most of the greats would agree.
I had the pleasure of meeting Stevie in person very briefly at the Midland, Texas airport in 1987. He looked much different than the skinny kid I remembered but his smile was still the same; Stevie was always smiling it seemed. We exchanged pleasantries then he shook my hand, smiled and walked away. I never saw him again.
Two or three years later when I heard the news of his death, the first thing I pictured in my mind was that smile.
How lucky we all were to have him and his music in our time.
He called his guitar “Number One”…
A Title He Himself is Worthy Of.
“In 1989 after a full day of recording material for his 4th studio album “In Step“, after everyone else had left, Stevie asked his producer to turn the lights down and leave the tape running. Playing his Fender Strat solo in the dimly lit studio, he recorded the guitar track above.”
This was classic Stevie Ray Vaughan at his best, music just flowed from him.
The same way it had the first time I saw him in Austin many years before.
“Standing there with his eyes closed, lost in a world all his own, creating a musical Masterpiece”.
Although no one knew it at the time, “In Step” was to be his 4th and final studio album. A few months later after a performance in Wisconsin with Eric Clapton and others, Stevie boarded a private helicopter bound for his next tour appearance in Chicago. Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft crashed against a small mountainside. Tragically, Stevie and all on-board were killed.
“Track #10 “Riviera Paradise” will forever remind me of the first time I ever saw Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the musical genius that was still yet to come but will never again be heard”.
October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble now have a permanent spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Texas guitar hero was inducted into the historic museum on April 18 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
“SRV and Double Trouble received over 18 million votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I know he would want to thank the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but most of all he would want to thank his fans.” ~Jimmie Vaughan~
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