Mind's Ear

Jimmie Vaughan is two albums into a solo career he didn't necessarily want

Forget, for a moment, his more famous dead brother. Don't make comparisons, and do not buy into the myth that to celebrate one you must tear down the other. Do not think that just because one brother sold hundreds of thousands of albums, and the other, thousands, that it means anything. To compare and contrast is a famous, familiar pastime, but it ultimately serves no purpose.

They were brothers, yes, raised on the same Texas diet of the Nightcaps and Freddie King and 1960s AM radio. But they were also singular men who went their own ways, followed their own hearts, found their own voices, grew up and then apart only to come together in the months just before one died and sent the other on his way again. Jimmie Vaughan, the older brother long ago dwarfed by the myth of his sibling, doesn't need to stand in Stevie Ray's spotlight -- or his shadow -- to make his case. He has records of his own to speak for him; he has a handful of soundtrack singles and one-off guest shots and a fistful of Fabulous Thunderbirds albums that do his bidding. He's the quietest guitar hero of them all, releasing albums every four years and making music that never seems to rise above a loud whisper.

Recently, Vaughan released Out There, his second solo album of this decade and of his lifetime -- though you might not know it. It has received so little attention, it's almost as if there's a conspiracy to ignore the thing. Perhaps the reason has something to do with the passage of time: Unlike his 1994 debut, Strange Pleasure, his new CD does not feature a song about his dead brother, and Jimmie, now a veteran of his own solo tours, is no longer a sideman-turned-frontman novelty item. But more likely it's the release itself, which is not exactly the stuff of pop-radio airplay. Though it may be titled Out There, it's actually more "in here," the sound of a man making the old echoes rattling around inside his head tangible.

Out There is sly and sexy, a romp through the sweet soul '60s in sharkskin shoes, silken shirts and pleated black pants. It's the soundtrack to a burlesque show and a Stax/Volt revue all at once, a bump-and-grind joy ride down memory lane in the back of one of those vintage cars Jimmie spends so much time restoring at home in Austin. It's boogie-woogie and it's back-porch, with Vaughan working his guitar like a man who has only so many notes in him and doesn't want to waste a single one. So he doles them out, teasing and pleasing. That he barely plays at all on the title track, laying down a quiet rhythm while Bill Willis and drummer George Rains keep the beat in their back pockets, says it all.

"The space is just as important as the music," Vaughan says. "That sounds funny to somebody who's not a musician, I guess, but that's my way of thinking. I grew up in the '50s and '60s, and music used to have something to do with phrasing and space."

Back then, he was a member of the Chessmen, perhaps the most legendary of all Dallas bands from that era, having released only a handful of brilliant proto-punk singles. They were a garage-rock band playing British Invasion blues, with the sound of Texas-born teens pretending to be Jeff Beck pretending to be Freddie King. "When I was 15, I didn't know the difference between Jeff Beck and Freddie King," he says. "One guy had a bigger amp, and that was Freddie. To me, that stuff was really the same thing, until I really started getting into it. But when the Chessmen called me up, it was, get a big amp and let's go to town. And about that time, Hendrix came out, and it was like Muddy Waters's illegitimate stepchild or something from Mars. To me, it's all the same thing."

Jimmie Vaughan grew up knee-deep in the blues. He happily talks of the first songs that moved him -- the morning he heard Booker T. and the MGs' "Green Onions" while racing to get to school, the hours spent poring over the Nightcaps' "Wine, Wine, Wine." There was the evening in Houston when a twentysomething Steve Miller -- himself a child of Dallas -- taught a 15-year-old Jimmie Vaughan what not to play on the guitar.

"The Nightcaps -- that was the first album I ever bought," he says of the white-boy R&B band that tore up Dallas during the late '50s and early '60s. "I learned how to play lead and rhythm and bass and drums off that record, practically."

Jimmie and Stevie, the latter three years his brother's junior, were guitarists before they could read; the picture on the back of 1990's Family Style -- the two young boys cradling their instruments, Stevie looking particularly small behind his -- has become the Vaughan brothers' legacy. It was, of course, Jimmie who struck out on his own first, playing in bands around the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. The Chessmen was his first paying gig, but there were plenty of others before that. It was Jimmie who first moved to Austin in 1970, his little brother following closely behind.

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