Even with the down time he’s been afforded courtesy of the coronavirus, Austin-based guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan — who turns 70 in March — isn’t pondering too deeply on his 56-year legacy. But he’s finding the topic somewhat unavoidable.
On top of his landmark 1990 collaboration “Family Style” with his late kid brother Stevie Ray Vaughan, a sprawling anthology of Vaughan’s solo work, including his popular 1980s outings with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, is being readied for 2021 release.
“Because obviously, when you do a career-spanning box set, it means that you’re getting towards the end of it,” he says. “And you really don’t want to think of it like that.”
Also, a 2012 documentary by Texas filmmaker Kirby Warnock, “From Nowhere — The Story of the Vaughan Brothers” is at last getting worldwide distribution, and an art installation of four 8-foot by 10-foot interlocking burnished-steel panels honoring the siblings was unveiled near their birthplace in Dallas earlier this year.
In 2020, too, Vaughan issued a 31-cut covers collection called “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” which combines 2010’s “Blues, Ballads and Favorites” with its “More Blues, Ballads and Favorites” follow up in 2011 with rare bonus material.
The “Pleasure” title track is a sultry sendup of a 1957 Vee-Jay Records single by Billy “The Kid” Emerson. Elsewhere, the guitarist taps into catalog obscurities from Jimmy Reed, Webb Pierce, Doug Sahm, Willie Nelson, and Mr. Personality, Lloyd Price.
Originally, the idea came from hearing Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan reinterpret The Great American Songbook: “I thought to myself, ‘Well, why don’t I do The American blues songbook?’ Because I really loved all this stuff,” he says, adding, “Sometimes there are songs that you just can’t do, because the singer is too iconic. But you have to at least try. You have to jump in the water to find out if you can swim.”
The four-time Grammy winner has grown reflective on his origins. Growing up in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas — where artist Casto Solano’s huge Vaughans-depicting metal monument “We Are Music and Music is Us” is erected in Kiest Park — he recalls being told by a high school classmate that the only way he could get girls was to join the football team.
Reluctantly, he tried out after school one day, and that fateful scrimmage changed everything. The coach threw him a test pass that he easily caught. “But the next thing that happened was, all the other guys tackled me and piled on top of me,” he says. “And I broke my collarbone and had to stay home for three months.”
Vaughan says his two great loves in life — guitars and classic cars — kicked into overdrive during that recuperation period. Left alone in the house while his parents went to work, he started strumming a six-string, just to keep out of trouble, without learning how to read music.
He quickly developed his own signature style, dismissed as “too far gone” by his frustrated guitar teacher.
Up the boulevard was a Dairy Queen and other drive-in haunts, and he would watch kids in their hot rods rumbling through and dream of one day having a hit record, so he could buy his own ride and vamoose. “I’ve just always loved cars — it’s art that you can drive down the street,” he says.
By the late ‘60s, Vaughan had relocated to bustling Austin and been befriended by Jimi Hendrix and club owner Clifford Antone, who introduced him to other proteges like Lou Ann Barton and Kim Wilson, which coalesced as The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Vaughan left the combo in 1990, just in time to record with his brother, who had become a solo star in his own right. Sadly, Stevie Ray would die in a 1990 helicopter crash before “Family Style” ever saw release. “It’s been 30 years and some change since that day,” he says, sighing. “And we used to take helicopters all the time back then, because you just don’t think of that possibility. But not any more.”
Unlike some collectors, he stays mum about how many vintage automobiles he owns, and where he keeps them. But he admits a particular fondness for 1952-54 Fords and says some of his other cars, such as his ’61 Cadillac DeVille, have won awards in the annual California car shows he and his missus regularly attend. He knows that he’ll never acquire every model he wants.
“That’s the thing about being a musician, too — you never quite get there,” Vaughan says. “It’s a continuing art project, an ongoing religious awakening. So I believe that I was, not so much chosen, but allowed to do this. And it just so happens that I love it.”