Tag Archives: Stevie Ray Vaughan

Austin Lightning

Have you ever been struck by lightning?  You know those huge lightning strikes that stretch across the sky, branching in every direction and electrifying the entire cloudbank.  Well, there was such an event that occurred around, say 1983 through 1988, and the cloud was Austin, Texas.  Everyone in the the community was electrified, and some of us were hit with the full force of the bolt, blasted across the sky in a chaos of excitement and power.  Your name was on a hundred lips, and your mouth spoke a litany of names that you belonged to and belonged to you.  These faces were everywhere you looked, everywhere you went, each having a fascinating history and connected to the whole, your friend at your ear always whispering the significance of the personage that has appeared before you.  And we danced, dancing aggressively, in a frenzy, around the maypole or in a waltz, but always dancing, dancing to the music that was our common heartbeat, that kept the blood pulsing through our veins.  Sleep came when necessary, usually in the morning, when the chaos was least, and you could relax for a while knowing you weren’t missing too much.  But something was always happening.  You danced at work, in the park, in the club, coming on the dancefloor, holding the waist of the beauty in front of you while someone from behind you held your waist and the conga line increased its tempo until everyone was a human snake running ’round the Coliseum.  On and on it went, with the magicians on stage being the audience and the crowd being the spectacle, the lyrics of the song telling your story.  The intimacy was incredibly intense, making the body shiver with all the desire and possibilities, wanted and unwanted.

The force of the bolt climaxes, catapulting you into pure consciousness, beyond the concept of planet, you float in empty space. In darkness you hear the far off applause for your accomplishment.  Eventually you awaken, thousands of miles away, on a sidewalk by a foreign road, a burnt cinder.  Now, decades later, of all the millions of events, places, people and experiences that were there, only one mythic name does the World remember:  Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Working at Austin Records

            One slow Sunday morning, Herschel Cunningham came to Chuys for breakfast.  I sat down and told him I was majoring in sound engineering and he responded just as everyone in the music industry did, “You can take classes in that?”  Well, he let me intern at the studio for free, mostly cleaning up and taking out the trash.  I did find some interesting items in the ashtrays, in fact I got the feeling that the musicians were leaving roach offerings for “the kid.”  There was some great rock’n’roll music made there, and the occasional country act came through, but most of all it was a blues scene. 

            Austin’s Riverside Sound, at the far end of Riverside Drive, on the edge of town, was basically created as a playground for Richard Mullen, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s engineer.  It was his gold albums that hung on the wall, from Stevie’s first two, that made the studio, and Richard was part owner.  Richard Mullen never got the credit he deserved for Stevie Ray’s success, although he really enhanced the music with the same pristine, other-worldly sound he had given Christopher Cross, of “Sailing” fame, years before.  Later, Richard was Eric Johnson’s main engineer for over a decade, which says a lot.  It was incredible watching and listening to Richard meticulously craft every nuance into those tracks.  He charged $70 per hour at the time, and he took all night, slowly slurping down a 12-pack of Miller Lite, to make every project as perfect as possible.

            Most of the acts that recorded at Riverside were blues players that would hang out at Antone’s, the greatest blues club in Texas.  One time Clifford Antone brought to the studio some old guys from Chicago that used to play with Howling Wolf—Hubert Sumlin and Co.  The drummer (E.G?) derided me for keeping “our” beer in the fridge, where “that bassplayer” could get to it.  “Can’t you drink warm beer?” he asked. 

  My first album credit was on Trash, Twang, and Thunder—Big Guitars of Texas.  That was a very impressive experience, and it made a huge impression on me.  The producer basically just gathered six of the best players he could get ahold of and put them in the studio together.  In four days they came up with what turned out to be a Grammy Nominee.

Of course the band I was most involved with was Omar and the Howlers, a jamming blues rock act that packed Austin clubs on a weekly basis, when they weren’t packing stadiums in Sweden, where they were treated like gods.  This was an Austin Records group and I was doing anything and everything needed to release their albums, and later to get them signed with CBS.  Those guys were good friends and I really enjoyed hanging around with them.  Omar has always been an inspiration to me as a model of how to focus on what you do best and putting your all into it.

Click on the links to see videos of these performers.

Entering the World of Music

          I said I would talk about my time working for Austin Records, so here you go.  First, I want to go back to when I dropped out of Biology, and therefore Pre-Med.  This was at the University of Texas at Austin, and I went to all the classes and studied, sort of.  I was flayling in the lab, but the turning point came when I looked at my mid-term, consisting of three or four essay questions, and I had no clue.  I shocked the professor by turning in a blank page after five minutes.

            So I’m sitting outside the Commons, enjoying the scenery, and wondering what will become of me, when up walks my friend Drew.  I complained that I couldn’t even major in Music because I wasn’t proficient enough at the baritone, which I didn’t want to play anyway (I wanted to learn Cello.)  “Why don’t you major in Radio-TV-Film?” suggested Drew, “Its so cool, there’s even an audio sequence for sound engineers.”  And that was the moment my life was given direction (the direction towards a cliff, a waterfall, and a wild ride, but never mind.)  I loved music, but I wasn’t a great musician, so becoming a sound engineer seemed to be just the ticket.

A Fun Funky Place to be

            I met Herschel, the owner of Austin Records, because his wife Judy was a waitress at Chuys, where I worked also (I’ll have to talk about Chuys another time, it was an awesome place to work.)  They had a big after-concert party for Stevie Ray Vaughan on the eve of a big European tour.  Everybody sat around and drank too many margaritas, then suddenly gathered around Stevie Ray for autographs.  Mine was illegible.  One girl asked him to write something personal, so he wrote “Greetings from Margaret.”  She asked what that meant and he replied “its personal.”  I heard that Stevie Ray left his car parked in front of Herschel and Judy’s house—six feet from the curb on a through street!  It was still in good shape when he returned from the tour six weeks later.                       Stevie Ray Vaughan “Lenny”  

Stevie Ray Vaughan

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