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A Conversation With Jimmie Vaughan
Samuel Barker
January 15, 2001

Jimmie Vaughan

Samuel Barker: Anything interesting coming up for you?

Jimmie Vaughan: Yeah, I was nominated for a Grammy, the Grammies are coming up. The third part of my tour is going to start at the end of January, and Iím working on a new record.

Samuel: So youíre just keeping it rolling.

Jimmie: Iíve got a lot of things that are coming up, just what I do, gigs, promoting the new record, the Grammies, and thatís enough.

Samuel: Is the record youíre working on now going to be on Artemis?

Jimmie: Yeah, it will on there as well.

Samuel: With the Grammies, I know youíve won a few; do you still get nervous waiting after you get nominated?

Jimmie: Absolutely. I can appreciate things more the older I get...Itís better than a sharp stick in your eye, lets put it that way. Iím really excited about it. Itís a new record on a new label, and I got nominated and the whole thing, Iím tickled.

Samuel: Are you happy with the reception ĎDo You Get The Bluesí has received thus far?

Jimmie: Well, yeah. The people who have heard it like it. My regular fans like it and the music fans seem to like it.

Samuel: I know from the sound of the record it sounded like you had a theme you followed, all the songs tie together very well, was there anything specific you had in mind when you were compiling the songs for this album?

Jimmie: Not really. I didnít really have a theme, at least not more so than I do any other time. I just really try to play what it is I would love to hear, if I could hear anything in the world. If I could hear my favorite stuff in the whole world, thatís what I try to hear. Thatís my goal. Thatís what I shoot for. I had been listening to, as I always have listened to, a lot of Jazz records. A lot of Miles Davis, and I was listening to Sarah Vaughan, Theloneous Monk. All sorts of Jazz greats and Blues guys. Thatís always a big influence on me, at least in the inspiration department. You donít necessarily play what you hear, but it inspires you to do stuff. I wanted to do an album that a romantic kind of thing to it. Thatís kind of a weird word, if you use romantic these days it sounds old tyme and people go Ďwhat, romantic.í But for me itís like when youíre listening Theloneous Monk records like Mysterioso from the 50ís or Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, if you listen to a Sarah Vaughan album, itís kind of romantic, thatís what I meant by that. I wanted to do something with that Ďsitting on the side of the bed talking to your sweetheartí kind of vibe with dirty blues guitar on top of that, if that makes any sense at all.

Samuel: Itís something interesting to try, to put those two elements together.

Jimmie: Iím just playing the kind of music I like. A lot of different things grab me by the nose and pull me around. Different influences...shall I say grab me by the ear and pull me around. Music to me is the greatest thing in the world, and itís also the most personal thing in the world. The government canít tell me what to like, no authority figure, no relative, or anyone can tell me what to listen to and what to like. Itís my own. Thatís the great thing about music, whatever you like is, itís the stuff. So, I sort of have my own top 40 and my own world of stuff I like. It can be classical, it can be an old flamenco record, it can be a John Lee Hooker, it could be Jimmy Reed, Albert Collins, Lightning Hopkins, or it could be a Jazz record. I just like to hang out in that world and get inspired and do my own version. One of the things Iím doing is working on my own sound.

Samuel: Thatís what I liked about the new record. It was very tight and it sounded like a progression for you. Do you still spend time working on your technique or improve you knowledge of the guitar?

Jimmie: I guess. I play the guitar everyday, thatís what I do. Iíve been playing since I was 12 or 13 years old. I donít think of it as practicing or working on a technique, I just play. I have guitars in every room of my house. I just kind of walk around and play guitar all time, thatís what I do. Itís therapy for me, or church, or whatever you want to call it. So, I just get on different trips. Iíll think of a progression to the song, like the first song I did off of ĎDo You Get The Bluesí was Planet Bongo. That was the first song I wrote. I kept having this idea about this song that went along and it stopped and there was no time and it was just freeform, like at church. There is no time for a while, itís totally free. I got on this trip and thatís what came out of the trip. Thatís how all the songs are. I got a lot of help this time from Greg Sain, heís a great musician and singer and a really good lyricist. He helped me a lot. He wrote a lot of the lyrics for the album. He was right on the same wavelength and we knew what we were going for.

Samuel: When writing instrumentals versus songs with lyrics, do you decide that before hand or is it something where you get the song together and you have something to say over it?

Jimmie: It happens every way. A lot of times I come up with the lyrics first, like Off The Deep End. The first thing I thought of was the chorus. (sings the chorus) thatís what I thought of and was like Ďthatís cool as shit.í I got chill bumps and sat down and that was the only thing I could think of for the first day. I just played the chorus all day. I like those little twists that come out and you donít expect it, but it makes sense and itís off a little bit at the same time. Kinda like life. Then, later on, I started the verses and then I got with Paul Lay and he helped me straighten out the verses. And then sometimes, like Donít Let The Sun Set On Our Love, I thought of the riff first (hums riff). I played that for two years on the guitar and didnít know what it was. It happens all different ways, there is no set way with me. I try to go with the stuff that is truly inspired. If I hear something and it catches me. I really have a hard time sitting down and making up songs. Thatís hard to do for me, to make stuff up. Anyone can sit down and make stuff up, but everyone once in a while when you get that flash or that good feeling or that inspirational moment, I try to jump on that and not judge it too much. Because itís easy to think of something and go Ďthat really sucks.í You canít really do that to yourself because youíll ruin it before you start it. So itís all a series of tricking yourself into figuring out what to do. Sometimes someone will say something and youíll say Ďthatís a cool thing.í I wish I could figure it out. I guess itís better that I donít have a set method, because that way I donít really know whatís going to happen.

Jimmie Vaughan

Samuel: I think itís interesting that you said you got chill bumps when you came up with something new, do you feel fortunate to still feel so strongly about your music when so many people have fallen victim to the Ďmusic is a businessí way of thought? Does it make you feel fortunate that you still look at music as something magical?

Jimmie: Well, you said it perfect. Iím absolutely fortunate and I feel blessed. I canít tell you how much it means to me to be able to play music. Itís how I express myself. Itís like Iím a painter and they give me these canvases and these paints and itís blank and they ask me what I want to paint. Thatís what my job is, Iím very fortunate in that way, that I get to do what I love. I just sit around and think up cool stuff and thatís my job. I love it. Music gives me chill bumps everyday. Thatís what I go for. I remember when I was a little kid, before I could play, I could remember how music sounded, when I heard something I like. I remember what itís like to not be able to play and remember what music sounds like. I still get that same flash when I get an idea for a new song because I donít know how to do it yet, but I still get that little glimpse of an idea. Thatís the part that gives you the inspiration and the chill bumps. Itís the same way with a writer or any creative thing. You get that flash, where you donít know what to do, and then boom, there it is. Iím terrible at business. If I was more business minded Iíd probably do a little better in the music business. The business part completely screws me up, I donít even understand it or like it. It seems the only way to get ahead in business is to screw people. I donít know if thatís true, but I like the music part of the music business. I was just listening to Gene Ammonds yesterday, I put this record on, I hadnít heard it in about three years, and it made my hair stand up. And I was listening to Jimmy Reed a couple of days ago, I could play with Jimmy Reed for 120 years straight in a row and never get tired of it, heís so cool. He speaks to me. Thatís the kind of music I love and thatís what I want to create. You know, a lot of people just donít get it. But there are those few who get it and it makes it all worth while. Even if no one liked what I did, Iíd still do it because thatís what I love. Iím lucky that way. I have allergies today, if you can hear them.

Samuel: Itís to be expected, at least in Texas. Only in Texas do you have to worry about flower blooming and pollen in the air in mid-January.

Jimmie: I love it. I love Texas too. Thatís one thing Iíve always enjoyed doing. I really learned how to play, my main influences, the guys I really loved are all from Texas. T-Bone Walker, Johnny Watson, Albert Collins, Gatemouth Brown, Lightning Hopkins, Little Son Jackson. Those guys are from Texas. Iíve always made it my business. When I discovered those guys I was like ĎThis is cool, I want to be like those guys when I grow up.í Theyíve always been my heroes. Iíd like to a course on Gulf Coast Guitar Sounds. I enjoy that. I enjoy that language. Thatís a certain language, you know? Iíve always tried to keep that in my music, so no matter what song or whatever is going on, that guitar is going to come in there somewhere.

Samuel: Hearing you talk about how you looked up to those guys, is it ever odd to think there is a kid who is 13 or so right now who looks at you the way you looked at those guys?

Jimmie: Well, thatís kinda scary to me. That would be good, but I donít think about that. I enjoy telling people about Kenny Burrell, B.B. King and all the great blues players and jazz players that I loved so maybe theyíll go check one of those guys out and get inspired and then...one guys lead to another then to another and so on. Itís a neverending journey. And these guys are talking to me.

Samuel: Thatís funny you say that. Is it still fun to get out with these people you grew up listening to and now you get to play with some of them?

Jimmie: Well, yeah. When I was 12 or 13 years old, if you told me I would get to meet and play with B.B. King and Eric Clapton and Wayne Bennett, and Albert Collins, and Gatemouth Brown, and Freddie King and all these people, I would never have believed you in a hundred years. But I actually got to meet them and play with them and stand there and watch them play. Itís been amazing. Iím still in the process of doing this.

Samuel: With your live shows, do you stick mostly to the recorded versions or will improvise a lot of the solos and riffs?

Jimmie: Well, the way blues works is that there is a melody, and a beginning and an end, sorta. But all the stuff in the middle is just playing. Thatís the great thing. Thatís why I keep harping on about blues and jazz and flaminco, youíre improvising. If your head was a radio receiver and you kept turning the dial until you actually started receiving the radio station and you play what you receive. Thatís what improvisation is about. It happens right then, thatís the cool thing about it.

Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

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