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Music

"I've Got My Own Hubcaps": An Interview with Jimmie Vaughan

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: Gage Skidmore / Conqueroo

Blues guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan reflects on his latest album, Baby, Please Come Home, the greatness of T-Bone Walker, and the importance of remaining curious about your instrument.

Baby, Please Come Home
Jimmie Vaughan

Last Music Company

217 May 2019

Baby, Please Come Home is the latest release from Texas guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan. Recorded with a team of players that includes George Rains, Billy Pitman, Ronnie James, Mike Flanigan, Doug James, Greg Piccolo, Al Gomez, and Kaz Kazonoff, among others, including vocalists Georgia Bramhall and Emily Gimble.

With compositions from discographies of T-Bone Walker, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Lloyd Price, the album is a deeply relaxed but fearless affair that finds Vaughan continuing a stride he found with 2010's superb Plays Blues Ballads & Favorites.

With a heavy emphasis on the soulful rhythms of the blues and a deep appreciation for tastefully understated lead guitar playing, Vaughan shows little sign of slowing down. Now 68, he spoke with PopMatters about the making of Baby, Please Come Home and his passion for blues history from his home in Texas.

When did you know you were going to make this new album?

With the last three albums before this, I finally learned that it's too much pressure to make a whole album at once. So, I pretended that I was making 45s. This way I only had to make two or three at a time. Before you know it you've got 15 songs. It was a way to trick myself. If that makes any sense.

Absolutely.

I go into the studio and it's fun. It also helps when you have these great musicians. It took me a long time to find people that wanted to play and liked what I liked. I seem to have found the motherlode now.

These are guys you've been using on the road and I imagine that makes it easier to record.

Musically speaking it's smooth. You don't want to teach some kid. If you can find somebody that's already into the same thing you are, they already know.

It sounds like you're very relaxed with each other.

It's a ball. A lot of these songs are ones that I remembered from being a kid. My uncles, on both sides of the family, were in country bands, hillbilly bands. I remember a lot of these artists from them.

I have a jukebox brain. I can think back to songs that my parents played in the house when I was young. I'll be sitting at my desk and all of a sudden "Jambalaya" or "Smokey Joe's Café" will pop in there.

Same kind of thing for me. I have a jukebox and load it up to listen to my records. I pick a song to record because of certain reasons. I have to like it, I think I can sing it. I like bending all the rules, blurring the lines. I like doing Lefty Frizzell bluesier than Lefty Frizzell would have done it.

Jimmie Vaughan – The Blues Kitchen Presents... [Interview & Live Performance]

You can listen to some of that old country stuff and hear jazz flourishes on it.

It's jazz and blues. Back when I was in The Fabulous Thunderbirds we did one of his songs, "You're Humbuggin' Me." If you didn't know it was Lefty Frizzell you might think it was Frankie Lee Sims.

I wanted to talk about the song "I'm Still In Love With You" because as much as I admire your guitar performances, I think the vocal there is amazing.

I was just singing that one to my wife. That was my motivation. I liked the song and I love T- Bone Walker but I learned that I have to sing a song like myself because I can't sing like anybody else. I figured that out pretty quick. That's a fabulous song, though, it's one of the earliest songs that he did in the '30s. Just think about T-Bone Walker. He was the first guy to play the blues with a big band.

Did you think about the history of the players early on or was that something that came over time?

I was always interested in it. [And I thought about it like this]: If you got a room with all your favorite musicians, BB King and T-Bone Walker and Albert King and Albert Collins and Buddy Guy and it came around to you, what would you do? If you ask yourself in your mind's eye or mind's ear, "What do I do?" That [voice] will eventually tell you. That's how you get style.

You were starting at a time when you couldn't go to YouTube and look up Albert Collins playing.

I got to see all those guys.

When you went to those shows, would you go down front and say, "Oh, that's what he's doing!"

I did everything I could to learn what they were doing. Why they did it, how they did it. I was just fascinated with the whole thing. Still am. [Guitar playing] is so expressive. You may have a beginning and an end or a theme but when you get to the solo part it's open season. It's whatever you can come up with.

It seems like you're still figuring out what you can say with the instrument.

Absolutely. It always changes. You can't stay the same even if you want to. You're always moving over here or moving over there. It's as if you're being led. You may have style and people may recognize you if they hear you but it can't stay the same. The exciting thing is when the [right note] comes to you. That flash.

How do you reconcile that idea of wanting break new ground and respecting tradition?

You're aware of all that's happened but [I recognize that] I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. I've got my own hubcaps. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

You ask yourself, "What do I do best?" and try to do that. It's very hard to describe something that you do naturally.

I'm curious about your relationship to the music of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. I feel like not enough people know about him.

T-Bone Walker would use the guitar like a trumpet or saxophone in a solo. A lot of single notes, very jazzy. When T-Bone went to L.A. and started making all those records with Les Hite's band, Gatemouth was right behind him. I don't know if people realize how important he was. He and T-Bone did electric guitar battles. They were right on the cutting-edge. Everybody's got an electric guitar now and plays [mimics fast-paced guitar solos] but those were two of the first guys. If not the first.

You have so much experience as a live performer. Do you still get nervous before you go out and play?

Absolutely. I get excited but I've learned how to use the nervousness. You get that queasy feeling and you channel it. But you never know what's going to happen.

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