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Rock and Roll Feature: SRV and Double Trouble Bring a Blues Flood Right out of Texas
This is the thirty-first in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
Well it's been an interesting start to November to say the least... delays are the name of the game, but that tends to happen when you've got a lot going on unfortunately. Hopefully these delays will be the final ones for a while though... hopefully.
Anyways, I thought it was about time I got around to publishing this month's Rock 'n' Roll Feature. I've been heavily engrained in the progressive, sort of shoegazy scenes recently, but thought it was time for a change, so I picked an album that is completely different. It's been a lot time since I picked a blues album, so I thought “Let's feature a blues album!”, and that was it... decision made.
And what better choice for a blues album, that the debut from one of the great blues guitarists of all time... one of my personal favorites: Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album is called Texas Flood and along with being the name of the title track, is a good summary of this album as a whole: It's a flood... a Texas blues flood... flowing but powerful and its going to seep and soak into you.
Released in 1983, a time when blues had lost the hip appeal it had during the 60s, Texas Flood not only helped to launch SRV's career, propelling him to the status of guitar legend, but helped bring some of the classic blues artists back to the forefront. I guess you could call it a sort of blues revivalist album, but one that breaks new ground and injects new energy into the genre at the same time. It's an album that not only exposed new people to the blues, but also reminded those who long called it their favorite genre to rediscover what it could be and how much expression can exist within it's musical framework.
From the very start, it's pretty obvious that this is not your standard blues album. Nope... the flood is coming in, and with “Love Struck” it arrives with fury and energy. A track that is just buzzing with infectious, “make you wanna dance” energy, it's got Texas blues and the roots of rock and roll combined and then unleashed upon the listener in a guitar explosion that's over before you even realized what just happened. “Pride and Joy” pulls things back a little into a deep bluesy swagger, but the intensity is still there, as is the precision in the guitar playing. These two back to back are a one two punch of Stevie Ray style in the form of his unique guitar tone, razor sharp rhythmic playing, endless vocabulary of blues licks, and emotive, soulful singing.
The title track, “Texas Flood”, is exactly the slow burning blues number it should be to make this a true blues album. It's complete with guitar leads that sound almost wrenched out of the instrument... a blend of blues licks and raw emotional charge. There's a reason this song is one of the main ones SRV is known for to this day... and it's not even written by him... he just captures the soul of the music so easily and channels it back at the listener turned up to 11.
Howlin' Wolf's “Tell Me” comes through with equal amounts grit and swagger, but still has that distinctly Texas flavor that SRV and Double Trouble are known for. Then, they follow it up with back to back, stinging instrumentals, “Testify” and “Rude Mood”, that put the focus even more squarely on Vaughan's guitar work. Not only are these two rapid fire exercises in just how well a good group of musicians can lock in and the textures they can create, but the passion and fire they're performed with are a testament to just how much these guys love this music. These are not your average boring instrumental, they're dynamic and vibrant... muscular and tight... engaging and intense like only great musicians can deliver... awesome stuff all around.
A nice cover of Buddy Guy's charming “Mary Had a Little Lamb” follows, before the band launches into my favorite track from this album, and one of my favorite SRV tracks of all time: “Dirty Pool”. Co-wrote with Doyle Bramhall like a lot of Vaughan's later work, it's a smoldering, heart wrenching blues number, complete with some stellar but simple guitar work. It works really well though and seems to convey the emotion of the song, better than anything else really could... gives you chills without even really trying.
“I'm Crying” is another shuffling blues number that echos “Pride and Joy” but has a unique character all it's own at the same time. And then there's “Lenny”. A song written by SRV in dedication to his wife, if any song hints at the true potential of what Stevie and this band would become it's this song. Yeah, they absolutely kill at the blues without question, bringing a fire and unique Texas style to it unlike anyone had done in a long time... Johnny Winter in the late 60s comes to mind as a close comparison, at least in terms of breaking through to the mainstream rock market. At the same time though, Double Trouble would become a vehicle to explore what the great blues songwriting can be by infusing slight elements of rock, jazz, and psychedelia with their standard repertoire. “Lenny” is the beginning of that, and executed in beautiful ringing, jazzy fashion. It truly is a spine chillingly beautiful song full of emotion. “Lenny” is another personal favorite of mine from all of Stevie's music and a unique closure for an album that is brimming with energy. Instead of going out with a bang, they go out with a touch of beauty and subtlety.
As a whole, this album sounds almost like a live set, with ups and downs that keep the whole thing flowing. It's also quite a raw album, in terms of recorded sound. Blues has always been kind of a raw genre, but 1983 was also right in the midst of the punk movement. Although this isn't a punk album for sure, there's a similar sound in how it's recorded, which actually makes it all the more impressive because there's nothing for SRV, or any of the band members really, to hide behind. They're tearing through this music with the same intensity they brought to the stage, and that intensity is captured in the recording for sure.
When talking about this album, and a lot of SRV's music really, it's interesting to note that some people, including some critics, were initially quite put off by his style, pointing to the fact that Stevie's guitar playing and vocals are really not all that distinctive, but almost obviously borrowed from others who came before. Although that is certainly true, I don't see it as a negative at all, but instead think that part of SRV's charm comes from the fact that he bears his influences for all to see without question. The licks of Albert King, Freddie King, Lonnie Mack and countless other blues greats, especially those from Texas, can be heard in Stevie's playing... sometimes note for note, a sign that he liked them so much he learned to play them note perfect. His vocals come right the blues greats as well, including Larry Davis, the original writer of “Texas Flood”. All of these influences are blended together and with such passion, soul and fire, that they create something new... a style that is both a strong tribute to just how much those individuals influenced him, and forging ahead with an energy that is all it's own.
Texas Flood, is the product of that style and energy captured at one specific moment, and the result is an absolutely stellar album to listen to. It's a blues album for sure, but has a fire and energy that even some of the greatest blues albums of all time can't match. I'm pretty sure this one, although it's core following is probably blues lovers and guitarists, can be easily appreciated by a wide range of listeners.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble would of course soar to genuine stardom after this release, locking them in as blues legends for their, and possibly all, time, and would later go on to record a couple of other albums of varying quality depending on your viewpoint. I think all of their albums are really great, but hold a special place for this one and for In Step as well. They sort of bookend SRV's career with greatness. Texas Flood is the band tearing it up, new on the scene and full of potential, while In Step points to all that could have been as it was shortly after that album's release in 1990 that Vaughan would be tragically killed in a helicopter crash.
If you've never really listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan, or even the blues at all, Texas Flood can be a good album to cut your teeth on. It's also a great album if you're a seasoned blues veteran, although I should say that not quite all blues fans take to SRV's unique style of Texas blues as well as others... to each their own of course. A lot of people already know and love Stevie's music though, so they're pretty familiar with this one already.
If you dig SRV and this album or any of his work really, I also highly recommend you check out the music of fellow Texans, Johnny Winter, Albert Collins and Freddie King, along with the equally great blues legend Albert King, and the one and only Lonnie Mack, who even cut an album with the help of Vaughan in '85.
So if you're looking for blues with fire, passion and an intensity that can only come from a true flood of emotion... a Texas blues deluge... than you need look no further than Texas Flood from the one and only Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Definitely one for the collection.
You can find this album directly from Amazon here: Texas Flood