By Damian Fanelli
It seems like only yesterday that The Fabulous Thunderbirds, an upstart rocking blues band from Austin, Texas, released their debut album, Girls Go Wild.
It was, in fact, more than three decades ago.
Since that time, Jimmie Vaughan, the T-birds’ founder and guitarist from 1976 to 1989, has gone from being a skinny kid with a Strat and a perm to one of today’s elder statesmen of the blues. Whether or not he knows it or accepts it, he’s approaching the “sacred trad-blues strata,” which includes Buddy Guy, B.B. King and, well, not too many other living players.
His approach to soloing has always involved economy — saying a lot with just the right combination of notes and bends — and that’s still the case with his latest solo release, Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites, which came out in July 2011.
Vaughan is having a ball lately, recording and touring when the mood strikes him and staying busy with guest appearances on recent or upcoming albums by Nick Lowe, Eric Johnson and Johnny Nicholas.
“Nobody has a better job than I do,” said Vaughan when I spoke to him three years ago.
Here are six killer tracks featuring the handiwork of Vaughan, a man with a very cool job.
(The Fabulous Thunderbirds, What’s The Word?, 1980)
“Extra Jimmies,” a pared-down jump-blues masterpiece in the key of B, is Vaughan’s signature tune. This song—with its catchy riffs, tasteful bends and flawless timing—is indicative of the sound and quality of the Thunderbirds’ early albums on Chrysalis Records, namely Girls Go Wild, What’s the Word, Butt Rockin’ and T-Bird Rhythm.
(Jimmie Vaughan with Double Trouble, Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1996)
Vaughan organized a tribute to his late brother, Stevie Ray, at Austin City Limits on May 11, 1995. He chose a tough tune to cover, but—backed by his brother’s old bandmates—he totally owned it, stamping it with his own brand of fire and passion, not to mention a biting tone. Check out the unusual note choices and phrasing at 4:08.
(The Fabulous Thunderbirds, What’s The Word?, 1979)
Me to Jimmie: “I’ve been stealing one of your solos for years; it’s your solo on “The Crawl” from What’s The Word? I steal that from you about once a week. Jimmie to me: “Well, good. I can’t remember, but I think I stole that from Guitar Junior. So don’t feel bad!” Here’s a live version featuring both Jimmie and Stevie Ray, who’s playing a Telecaster. Be sure to check out the extended solo at the end:
(The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Girls Go Wild, 1979)
Of course, there’s the classic studio version of this tune, but then there was the epic live version. T-birds singer Kim Wilson would leave the stage to let Jimmie do his thing, as I witnessed when I caught the band’s Wallkill, New York, show in July 1989. This video is from another show (and year), but you get the idea.
“Robbin’ Me Blind”
(Jimmie Vaughan, Do You Get The Blues?, 2001)
Do You Get The Blues? was one of several albums with the misfortune of having being released on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans weren’t exactly thinking about new music. But whether or not it is a lesser-known member of Vaughan’s catalog, it contains some of his most enjoyable material, including this traditional blues shuffle that exemplifies his effects chain: Strat, cable, amp.
“Comin’ & Goin’”
(Jimmie Vaughan, Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites, 2010)
I like to think of this hopping 2010 instrumental as the long-awaited sequel to “Extra Jimmies.” It’s as if he and his Strat have returned to his old rough neighborhood—but they’ve brought along a horn section as backup.