It's raining like crazy in Austin today, and rumor was they intended to open the floodgates at Mansfield Dam, above Town Lake, which is what everyone here calls the not-really-a-lake formed by damming the Colorado River as it winds through town. Actually, its official name is Lady Bird Lake, because – get this – while Lady Bird Johnson was still alive she refused to allow the city to rename the lake after her. So naturally, after she passed away they did so anyway, simultaneously honoring Ms. Johnson and completely disrepecting her stated wishes in equal measure. At any rate, there is also a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan perched along one of the trails that circumnavigates the lake, and I heard today first that the water was up to Stevie's waist, and next, that some wag had taken the time to put a life vest on the statue. Turns out the whole up-to-his-waist thing never happened; they decided not to open the floodgates upriver after all, but according to the Austin-American Statesman, the life jacket was still in place as of this evening in case anything changed.
I have to admit, I was a late bloomer re: SRV, and like so many things, it was teaching that brought him into my field of vision. I was already working summers at the National Guitar Workshop, ignoring the "rock" part of the "blues-rock" classes I was teaching, rationalizing that there was no need to explain everything I didn't know about Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Hendrix if I was showing people what I did know about B.B. King and Buddy Guy. This being the late '80s, kids would of course come up to me on a regular basis and ask what I thought of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I would just say, well, I hear good things, but I haven't checked him out yet. It's worth noting that for many of us, this kind of deflection was pretty much a required skill, though as my friend and fellow teacher Chuck explained it to me, it usually worked more like this:
Student: "Do you know how to play that solo on [insert classic song from classic rock band]?"
Chuck: "Is that off of their fourth album [knowing full well that it is]?"
Chuck: "Oh yeah, see, I was always much more into their earlier stuff."
Part of the problem was that, although I can remember walking obliviously past a display for Texas Flood outside of a Strawberries record store at the mall as a teenager, the first thing anyone played for me was "Say What," the opening wah-wah workout from Couldn't Stand The Weather. And I just thought it was ridiculous, so I didn't get any further. Insufferable elitist that I am, it was "Riviera Paradise" that finally caught my ear – that, and trying to figure out how one guy could play both parts to "Pride and Joy" at once and make it sound so good. I eventually determined, and explained to the kids in my class, that there was more than one way to approach that mix of bass lines and chord stabs, but unless the way you figured out would work standing up drunk in a bar at 2 in the morning, you were probably making it too complicated.
Now I live in a place with a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and people who remember standing in line behind the guitarist at the university CVS, where the late local blues DJ used to front the Cobras, and every other cool joint in town is done up with original posters from actual Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Cotton and Muddy Waters shows at Antone's. Stevie Ray's one of those musicians I don't really listen to that much anymore, unless it comes on when I'm tuned in to one of the local left-of-the-dial stations. But when I hear him, I always think, "ohhhh, right. That's why everyone loved that guy. Listen to that."
Sometimes, just remembering that certain things are revered for a good reason puts a spring in my step. Even – or maybe especially – when it's flooding down in Texas.