In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we take a look at Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble‘s classic debut, 1983’s “Texas Flood,” released which turns 30 this month.
In 1983, MTV was probably the single most influential force on the pop charts. If a song had a popular music video, odds were, it was a hit. Exhibit A: Billboard‘s Top 5 singles of the year were the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (from Synchronicity), Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What A Feeling,” Men At Work’s “Down Under” and Jackson’s “Beat It.” Whether or not you feel 1983 was a great era for music is down to your personal taste, but it certainly didn’t look like the time was ripe for a blues revival. Most of the blues-rock icons of the sixties had retired, faded away or evolved in a more pop direction (we’re looking at you, Eric Clapton).
And yet, it was in this climate that Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble emerged and turned a new generation on to the blues. Funnily enough, Vaughan benefited from an artist that MTV was giving lots of airtime to: David Bowie. Vaughan had been hired at the guitarist for Bowie’s mega-successful comeback album, Let’s Dance, which helped to pave the way for his solo career.
Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton recently told Radio.com that, back then, recording in the studio tended to be a more refined musical effort than playing live. “Our philosophy was, we were the same band no matter where we were or what we did,” he said.
Their song selection for their debut, which included the SRV-penned classic “Pride And Joy,” along with covers of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tell Me,” Larry Davis’ “Texas Flood” and the Isley Brothers’ “Testify,” was equally simple: “We played the songs that we had in our repertoire that we liked the best, and we recorded them all a few times, and that was, essentially, the record.” Ditto for their studio technique: “We just put some mics up and just played the songs.”
As simple as that was, the album had a huge effect, showing a new generation of guitarists that the blues wasn’t just something that old folks listened to. Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang and John Mayer, among many others, were profoundly influenced by Vaughan’s playing. Slide guitarist Robert Randolph told Radio.com that Vaughan has been his single biggest influence.
“One of my cousins gave me a Stevie Ray Vaughan tape when I was 17,” Randolph explained. “From then ’til now, I’ve listened to him every single day. That’s been my main influence. I’m trying to play the pedal steel the way he played guitar. His music led me to the Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I was a young innocent kid from the ‘hood before I heard him!”
Layton and his bandmates had no clue that they’d prove to be so influential. In fact, after they recorded the album, they thought it was going to sit on the shelf for a few years, due to Vaughan’s gig in Bowie’s band.
“Stevie was trying to figure out ways to pay us on retainer for a few years,” he said. “We figured, why don’t we give these tapes to [legendary A&R man] John Hammond and see if we could get a record deal? That’s what we did. John walked them over to CBS Records, where [record exec] Greg Geller said, ‘I’ll give them a deal right now!'”
Soon after, Vaughan quit Bowie’s band (he declined to tour for Let’s Dance) and launched his solo career. Layton recalls hearing their song on the radio, among other acts of the day (Culture Club, Talking Heads, A Flock Of Seagulls). “We thought, ‘This sounds so radically different!'”
And indeed it was. Texas Flood made no effort to frame the blues in any contemporary sense. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were simply carrying on a tradition… and refusing to water it down. And that may have been the secret sauce that led this Texas trio (they’d later add a keyboardist and become a quartet) to arena headlining status.
As Layton said, “People say ‘It sounds so honest.’ Well, it was.” And maybe that’s the album’s secret. The question now is: Given the amount of big name artists who have been influenced by Vaughan, how many of them will be on hand when Vaughan’s inevitable but overdue induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?