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Revisiting a classic Stevie Ray recording

August 19, 2010
By MARK J. MILLER, Staff writer

This week I review the latest expanded re-issue of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's classic "Couldn't Stand the Weather," originally released in 1984.

Released on Columbia Legacy earlier this month, the expanded edition includes the original album remastered, 10 additional bonus cuts - several of them previously unreleased - and best of all, a previously unreleased bonus CD of the trio's smoking live set recorded on Aug. 17, 1984, at the Spectrum Theater in Montreal, Canada.

Only a handful of rock guitar legends have hit the national scene fully formed - Jimi Hendrix comes to mind, while Eddie Van Halen is another.

In my book, no one made as big a splash as a rock guitarist or was as ready to explode as Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Although "Couldn't Stand the Weather" was the trio's second release - "Texas Flood" was the album that catapulted Vaughan to fame in 1983 - that album just didn't have the sheer, drop-dead transcendence of "Couldn't Stand the Weather," being little more than a recording of the band's standard sets. "Couldn't Stand" was the band's first full album of mostly originals, and while Stevie Ray would go on to write some great songs, none sparkled with the cathedrals of sound and huge guitar strut of "Couldn't Stand."

Produced by legendary Svengali John Hammond - the "discoverer" of Billie Holiday, the Count Basie Band, guitarist Charlie Christian, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen - Hammond had impeccable taste as a producer, understanding when the "definitive" version of a song was recorded in the studio.

And he had a bonanza to work with in Stevie Ray Vaughan.

An explosive blues-based prodigy, Vaughan drew inspiration from electric blues masters as diverse as Albert King to the more obvious, such as Jimi Hendrix.

Vaughan's ability to shine reportedly came at an early age in the Austin, Texas, region, a place where slouches of any musical genre are not long tolerated.

Basically a monster player by the age of 14, it would take finding the right bandmates Tommy Shannon on bass - a veteran who played with Johnny Winter - and drummer Chris Layton, for Vaughan to really break out.

A tough-as-nails, monstrous and hard-rock steady trio, all Shannon and Layton had to do was lay down a good foundation and get out of the way.

The band never sounded better in subsequent recordings as on "Couldn't Stand," with the title track a hybrid of vintage, supercharged R&B rhythm guitar, Hendrix-inspired virtuoso frenzy and poetic imagery.

The start-stop intro in one for the ages, a brilliant, unforgettable opener. If you haven't guessed, I consider this to be Vaughan's finest track, absolutely incendiary.

I also love the alley-cat vibe of "Tim Pan Alley," along with his take on Hendrix's "Voodoo Child," another epic guitar workout that Vaughan does justice to. Hendrix would have definitely been impressed.

But it's also Stevie Ray's vocals that hit the mark, a combination of Ray Charles, Wilson Picket and especially Otis Redding.

What is amazing is Vaughan could have been considered a great vocal artist alone.

The expanded edition's bonus cuts are nothing extraordinary, but the live show is something else. Stevie Ray shined the brightest in the smaller venues where he built his reputation, and the set recorded at the Spectrum is on a whole other level than the studio versions of the same songs, with many of his guitar solos approaching supernova status.

If you are a guitar player or admirer of Stevie Ray's humongous tone, this is the disc for you.

This bonus disc is worth the price for the reissue.

Stevie Ray graced us with some great music before his tragic and untimely death, but it never got any better than "Couldn't Stand the Weather."

May his soul be blessed by the guitar gods that be.

(Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)

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