In a Blink of an Eye
A conversation with Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon
By Jim Caligiuri,
3:19PM, Wed. Jul. 28, 2010
August 27 marks 20 years since Stevie Ray Vaughan took that fateful helicopter ride after a show at Alpine Valley in Michigan. To commemorate, Legacy Records reissued Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Vaughan’s second record with Double Trouble and their first platinum seller.
It’s been souped up with 11 studio outtakes from the original recording sessions plus a second disc - a previously unreleased concert from 1984 at the Spectrum in Montreal three months after the album’s release. The live disc makes this version worth checking out. It’s as fiery as the band has ever been on tape and a superb mix of earlier material.
Here’s a conversation I recently had with Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon about the reissue. Among other things, we talked about Vaughan performing Hendrix, working with the legendary John Hammond, and touring with Huey Lewis.
Geezerville: So does it feel like 20 years?
Tommy Shannon: No, really it doesn’t. It seems like 10 years. It’s amazing when you get older how fast time flies. It just doesn’t seem like 20 years at all.
G: I remember being shocked at the news of Stevie’s death. I can’t imagine how you felt at the time.
TS: There’s no words for it really. In a blink of an eye your life is changed forever. Stevie was my best friend. I lived with him and his wife. We always had adjoining rooms in hotels and stuff like that. We were just very close and that just changed in a blink of an eye.
G: One of the things that struck me in the liner notes to the new disc is that drummer Chris Layton remembers how positive things were at the time of the accident. Stevie had finally gotten himself together and you had turned a corner as a band.
TS: If you listen to In Step, our last record, you can kind of see it was taking a different direction than just standard blues. We had songs that we all worked on together and we were already working on ideas for our next record. So we were coming together as a band to be more creative. We were just excited about everything.
G: Critically, Couldn’t Stand the Weather was admired for the creative steps it took.
TS: We had some real songs in it. By that I mean songs with chord changes that we worked up. So that was our first step toward evolving. I have no idea where we were going. I don’t know if any of us did. But it felt like we were letting the music guide us.
G: The inclusion of the Hendrix track, “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” was pretty radical at the time.
TS: Yeah, I was the one who talked Stevie into doing “Voodoo Chile,” because it was a crossover between blues and rock and roll. So a younger generation really tuned in to what we were doing when we played that song. I remember Stevie didn’t want to do it at first.
TS: Austin at the time was a purist's blues town and Stevie had grown up in that and he was afraid of what people might think. Finally, he decided to think for himself because he wanted to do the song, but he didn’t feel comfortable doing it at first. I was really glad we did the song because it was a crossover. It was more than just a blues song.
G: Did you have anything to do with the new reissue?
TS: No, Sony and Jimmie Vaughan called the shots on that.
G: Have you heard the concert that’s included with it? I think it’s amazing.
TS: Yeah, it’s real good. I don’t remember that night to be honest. We were playing 200 shows a year at the time. I think it was that good every night. It’s like the show at the El Mocambo that came out. People really liked that, but all our shows were like that. I don’t think that we knew they were recording that night in Montreal.
G: Do you have any problems with the series of reissues and found recordings that have been released over the course of the past 20 years?
TS: No, as long as it turns out to be something good. The one they put out, In the Beginning, was kind of embarrassing. Of course, I didn’t play on that one; it was before I was in the band. But that’s not why I say that. If you listen, it had nothing to do with what we were doing later on.
G: Around the time of Couldn’t Stand the Weather, you toured with Huey Lewis and the News. Was that an odd combination?
TS: Well Huey Lewis wanted us. Our very first fan mail came from Huey. It ended up working out real good. You would think it would be incompatible, but I had more fun on that tour than on any of them.
G: Was that the first time you played in the bigger venues?
TS: No, the first time was with the Moody Blues. Texas Flood had just come out and hadn’t really taken off yet. So, nobody knew who we were, but they loved it. People went crazy. It was a shock. A lot of people were saying, "What kind of music is this?"
G: John Hammond, who signed Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Aretha Franklin to Columbia Records, is listed as executive producer. What do you remember about him working with him?
TS: He was involved a lot with the making of the record, but he never interfered with the music. He never said we needed to be more commercial. It was strange. He’d come into the studio in the morning and we’d be tracking. He would be reading the New York Times and we’d be wondering what in the world he was doing. He’s not even listening to us. After one take he said, “You’ll never get it any better than that.” We said, “We’re just warming up. We can get it better than that.” We tried about seven more times and none of them were as good as the first one. He was right. He’s in his Seventies at the time, but it was an honor to work with him. He was really a good person.
G: On the reissue there are a lot of new tracks tacked on to the disc that contains the original version of Couldn’t Stand The Weather. Any thoughts on those?
TS: We tried a lot of different things in the studio. Some of them just weren’t finished enough to put on the record. There’s probably still a lot of outtakes that they still have. Every time I think they’ve run out, they come up with something else.
G: I read a story recently about the state of blues that talked about how all the best known artists are older and there doesn’t seem to be anybody stepping in to take their place. I was wondering what you thought about that.
TS: The young black kids don’t want anything to do with the blues. To them it’s music of depression. It reminds them of something they want to forget.