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Rise of a Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984-1989 (DVD REVIEW)

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There’s a wealth of video material available devoted to the stage work of the late blues icon guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, so it’s somewhat surprising there’s precious little corresponding documentary work apart from Rise of Texas Bluesman: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984-1989.  Thankfully, its companion piece Lonestar is a thorough and accurate recounting of the Texas native’s glory days as well as his tragic death and its immediate aftermath. As such, the DVD belies the amateurish, bootleg-like cover.

The main content has a brisk pace in addition to which bonus features. such as an interview with recording engineer producer Jim Gaines. embroiders upon significant milestones in the musician’s life. Interweaving interviews with prominent figures in Vaughan’s life, such as his partner Janna Lapidus, as well as members of his professional team like latter-year manager Alex Hodges. furthers the story without succumbing to the superficiality that usually leads to a lack of objectivity.

On the contrary, British music journalist Nigel Williamson as well as Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski (author of the excellent bio of Vaughan, Caught in the Crossfire) evince discerning views of the man’s work that don’t preclude genuine passion. The former, in fact, has the real devotee’s eye (and ear) for nuance as he informs of the indirect homage to SRV’s idol Jimi Hendrix by the inclusion on the Texas Flood debut, of “Testify,” an Isley Brothers tune first recorded with the latter on guitar; in contrasting that gesture with the more overt sign of idolatry on the sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather, “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” Williamson’s point is well-taken.

Stevie Ray Vaughan himself appears only briefly during the course of the near two hours of the main feature of Lonestar, but those segments are crucial in clearly depicting his rite of passage in liberating himself from alcohol and drug addiction. His plain-spoken description of his attitude toward formulating a new life for himself sets an enlightening tone further explicated in passages of conversation with Timothy Duckworh, Vaughan’s one-time personal assistant; that is, the musician brought the same fierce devotion to his recovery as he did his art.

There’s no romanticism applied to this difficult period of the musician’s life, but instead an approach as pragmatic as the program to which the man himself became dedicated. In fact, the devotion to recovery was, again, as all-encompassing as that of Stevie Ray’s loyalty to excellence in his music. The clear implication, warranted or not, is that the complete and total restoration of his health, one upshot of which was a more liberated view of touring and recording, directly resulted in the widest commercial success of his career in collaboration with the aforementioned Gaines.

 

The long-term arc of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life and work thus attains a discernible logic as depicted in Lonestar. The style with which he comported himself with his first releases was tailor-made to the MTV-dominated marketplace of the time, so much so that the process he followed to capitalize on the evolution of the scene, specifically, his wholly authentic appearance early in the history of the music channel’s Unplugged performance series, was more a natural extension of his personality than a pre-concieved plan.

The producers of the video go to great pains to clarity an overlook side effect of this vaunted musician’s work, that is, that as much as he revitalized the blues genre with his loyalty to it—even so far as to keep going his own way and refuse touring with David Bowie to support the British icon’s Let’s Dance album on which he appeared-so did Stevie Ray Vaughan legitimize live musicianship. To a great extent, he inspired young musicians to form their own bands, in much the same way he was inspired by the legendary figures he followed.

In that context, the extended commercial shill for Craig Hopkins’ book, Day By Day, Night After Night, that comprises the lengthiest of the bonus features here is less important than the mini-bios of the various  contributors including one-time Bob Dylan guitarist Denny Freeman. And though there is no mention of the accompanying demise of vaunted rock show impresario Bill Graham in the same tragedy by which Vaughan passed, the matter-of-fact depiction of the post-accident events is in keeping with the even-handed perceptions that precede this interlude, including frank discussion of the release of Stevie’s collaboration with his brother Jimmie, Family Style and the initial posthumous release of the artist himself The Sky Is Crying (notably, curated by the sibling).

The high-quality audio of the soundtrack performs the same function as that content and the DVD en toto, that is, to seek out the work of Stevie Ray Vaughan, those idols of his and those related artists who found themselves elevated by their association with him.

 

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