They Call Me Hurricane
Thirteen previously unheard months in the life of Stevie Vaughan
Out of a comfortable, undistinguished house in university-area Austin, several boxes of vintage studio tapes were moved to safekeeping last month. The several dozen reels from a long-shuttered studio emitted small, gray dust clouds as they were tagged and shuffled into brown cardboard boxes. Many were simply late-1970s recordings for commercial projects or forgotten local bands like the Stallions.
Then there were the notables: Doug Sahm, Alvin Crow, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
On that last one, forget the "Ray" part. These tapes are a microcosm of Stevie Vaughan's music before the world knew him, unexamined until now. Between January 1978 and February 1979, Vaughan recorded numerous sessions at Hole Sound Recording, a studio owned by a local musician named Perry Patterson. It was a flux period for the sometimes homeless, usually carless, and always hungry to play Vaughan.
This audio snapshot is crucial in Vaughan's development because it frames him after his departure from the Cobras, where he was a featured guitarist singing four songs – his first foray to the microphone. His vocal set was astonishing to Cobra fans who knew him only as Jimmie Vaughan's little brother, screwing his face up and wailing on his Strat with the Nightcrawlers for "Boom Boom" only a few years before.
He'd already started dressing sharp in that Texas pachuco-mafia style developed by the Thunderbirds and Cobras, favoring caps, fedoras, and berets to cover the thinning hairline that made him self-conscious. The heavy adenoidal intonation caused from his repeatedly smashed nose gave his vocals a buttery quality, achy and yearning. His playing burst forth from deep within, as if his fingers couldn't move fast enough over the guitar strings. No question that Vaughan was stepping up as a player.
The recordings also cement the end of Triple Threat Revue as it shape-shifted into Double Trouble. Studio notes reveal Vaughan's trajectory: In January '78, they were Triple Threat, but as early as December '78, he recorded as Double Trouble. The band itself wouldn't debut under that name for four more months. Likely musicians on the sessions include W.C. Clark and Mike Kindred from Triple Threat Revue, though Lou Ann Barton is absent from the tracks.
Details on Stevie Ray Vaughan's long-lost sessions exist because of Perry Patterson's former wife Patty. She worked in the studio alongside him, managing and taking care of much of its paperwork until the demands of motherhood took over. (Their son Mack is married to Chronicle senior account executive Annette Shelton Patterson.) The two met at UT when Patterson, scion of a well-to-do Louisiana family, came to Austin around 1970 as a student whose educational goals were soon superseded by musical aspirations.
Patterson opened Hole Sound Recording in 1976 in a shop on Red River near 32nd, then moved north a year later, up to Koenig Lane. The young couple enjoyed the studio's uninhibited atmosphere and the benefits of a burgeoning local music scene. It was a post-hippie, wavering cosmic cowboy, underground blues, spicy jazz, and nascent punk time for Austin, and they partied with the Van Morrisons and Boz Scaggses of the day. Patterson had a good ear for talent and brought in 1960s production vets such as Houston White and Sandy Lockett, both at the Vulcan Gas Company during the 1960s, as well as noted local musicians Charlie Prichard and Pepi Plowman. Hole Sound put out a sole 45, "Rough Edges," recorded by W.C. Clark.
"Those guys were always at the studio, but Stevie had the biggest star potential, and Perry knew it," recalls Patty, who describes Vaughan as someone who lived to play and would do so for anybody with an electrical outlet. "Stevie and his girlfriend lived with us for about a month, in the back. Perry kind of supported him. We gave him a car, which he drove until it quit. The music was his whole life, but I felt he needed convincing that he could lead a band."
Hole Sound went south and closed in 1979; Perry and Patty split up afterward. The latter took their two sons to raise, and Perry gigged around as a musician, "not all that talented, but he enjoyed playing," offers Patty, her soft delivery halting.
"Perry was shot to death at his house [in 1989]. The police are sure it was a guy he was involved in a marijuana deal with, who killed himself later. It's still an open case, the only unsolved homicide of that year."
Perry Patterson's life had come to an abrupt end, but his musical legacy wasn't clear until Aug. 27, 1990, when Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash after a performance in Alpine Valley, Wis. Patty inherited the studio's tapes, paperwork, and ephemera. Studio logs, scribbled lyrics from "Steve Vaughan," lead sheets for songs like "Sweet Little Thang" that would be changed to "Pride and Joy," the title to the car she and Perry gave Vaughan: Patty kept the boxes tucked away until it came time to see that her sons and grandchildren got something of Perry's life and work. What she's revealed is a time capsule into that one pivotal year in the all-too-short life of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The recordings, done over a 13-month period, capture as many different colors as Vaughan could manage at only 24. The 21 proper tracks are no legacy-rewriting revelation and of a so-so recording quality, but the selections are reassuringly familiar for that period: Howlin' Wolf, Guitar Slim, Albert Collins, Otis Rush. An early version of "Texas Flood" is among them, as is W.C. Clark's "Reap Just What You Sow."
Studio versions of a few songs never recorded, only bootlegged live, or possibly alternately titled include "Be Careful," "Stinghead Sting," and a track of unidentified personnel performing "Cold Cold Cold" that sounds like Vaughan, with Mike Kindred pounding at the keyboards with his hardscrabble Dallas style. "Albert's Shuffle," "I'm Cryin'," "I Tried" – these tracks now predate the "Electric Graceyland" tapes of late 1979 as Vaughan's earliest studio recordings. The Vaughan estate is aware of these tapes and declined to develop them further some time ago.
Bob Irwin hasn't heard these tapes, but he knows Vaughan's music. Irwin's jaw-dropping producer credits include not just Vaughan but Johnny Cash, Patti Smith, Link Wray, and Cab Calloway. He's worked alongside Jimmie Vaughan on nearly all of Stevie's Epic/Legacy catalog releases, a job he jokingly notes includes "lots of Austin barbecue."
"I think there are certain portions of the early recordings that hold high historical value," he wrote in an e-mail, "but certainly not all, much like any artist's earliest forays. I rely upon both my instincts and Jimmie's insight when it comes to handling Stevie's early, pre-Epic Records recordings. And I don't think that there's ever been a time that we haven't been in complete agreement.
"I think that there are still several very worthwhile projects to be considered for eventual release. For example, there's a good amount of astounding live material that I'm hoping will be properly developed at some point. Very importantly, they have to be projects that are developed and executed with integrity. They have to offer something important and unique to the listener, and are both sonically and graphically wonderful."
In 1979, Stevie Vaughan could only dream of the life that would become his over the next 11 years, until his death at 35. In this singular flashback of time, he was no different than any musician in town plugging in for a gig tonight. One of the songs on this tape is familiar to his fans and captures the Vaughan lightning in a Lone Star-shaped bottle.
"Well, they call me Hurricane
And I've come to play in your town
Yeah, they call me Hurricane
And I've come to play in your town
If you don't like my music
I'm sure gonna drive to your town."
– "They Call Me Guitar Hurricane" by Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones)