Life Without You: Thirty years ago, Stevie Ray Vaughan took the world by storm with Texas Flood. As Sony releases the ultimate anniversary edition of that album, we celebrate the phenomenal rise of the last great blues guitar hero of the 20th century.
In May 1983, only days before Stevie Ray Vaughan was scheduled to play his first concert with David Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour, his career had reached a fork in the road.
Texas Flood, his debut album with his band Double Trouble, was in the can and set for release the following month, but the tour with Bowie, which was scheduled to last until the end of the year, threatened to postpone his ability to effectively promote the album until 1984. Facing a choice between increasing his exposure as a supporting member of Bowie’s band or supporting his solo career on his own while the album was still fresh, Vaughan chose the latter.
The choice was not as difficult as it might have seemed initially. According to Chesley Millikin, who was Vaughan’s manager at the time, Bowie’s management reneged on an agreement to allow Double Trouble to open select dates on the tour, and even prohibited Vaughan from doing interviews without prior permission, which made it difficult for Vaughan to even talk about Texas Flood.
Then there was the issue of Vaughan’s pay. While the $300-per-show rate was the same as what other members of Bowie’s band were being paid, and was certainly not out of line for a supporting touring musician in the early Eighties, Millikin thought that Stevie deserved more. It seemed arrogant and reckless for Millikin to demand higher pay for a relatively unknown musician than the seasoned pros in Bowie’s band, but when Millikin pointed out that Bowie was being paid $1.5 million for a headlining appearance at the US Festival, it made Bowie look unreasonable and cheap.
In the end, Vaughan wasn’t actually given a choice between staying with Bowie or bowing out. Millikin made the decision for him moments before Bowie’s band boarded a bus headed to the airport to catch a flight to Brussels, Belgium, where the tour’s first show was scheduled. Bowie’s tour manager was instructed to remove Vaughan’s bags from the bus, leaving a confused Vaughan on the sidewalk, wondering what he was going to do next. Millikin’s decision turned out to be the right one, however, as Vaughan earned instant notoriety for allegedly telling Bowie to take a hike while gaining the freedom to concentrate fully on promoting Texas Flood and giving his burgeoning career the full attention it needed.
While it would have been fascinating to hear Vaughan jamming on Bowie classics like “Station to Station,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “Fashion,” had he remained with Bowie the world would have been deprived of his now-legendary show at the El Mocambo Tavern in Toronto, his pairing with Albert King for the Canadian In Session broadcast, and his first appearance on the Austin City Limits television program. We also would have missed his fiery performance at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philadelphia, originally broadcast on WMMR radio and officially released for the first time on Sony’s new 30th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Texas Flood.
It’s likely that, even if he had remained with Bowie, Vaughan would have risen to premier guitar-hero status upon the release of Texas Flood. The album was about as perfect a showcase for his immense talents as he could deliver. Recorded in just two days, Texas Flood essentially captured Vaughan and Double Trouble performing a live set at a magical moment in Vaughan’s career, where his seasoned performing experience, fresh excitement over new opportunities and desire to make a definitive statement coalesced.
“Stevie said that we waited all of our lives to make that first record,” Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon says. “After that, making records was work.”
“We didn’t know we were making a record,” adds Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton. “We basically played all the songs we had been playing at the gigs. We’d record something, listen to it, and if it sounded good we’d go on to the next song.”