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Bob Irwin spends his days sorting through the vaults of record companies, listening to songs long ago hidden away from the general public, songs either too bad, or too good, ever to escape from the tomb. During the past decade, he has been responsible for freeing the Byrds' best-and-rest from Columbia's vaults, adding dozens of previously "lost" songs to boxed sets and reissued records. It's the sort of job every obsessive music fan dreams of. Long before Irwin got the nod, the Byrds was easily his favorite band, and now he counts frontman Roger McGuinn among his close friends. And recently he was fortunate enough to listen to songs Bob Dylan recorded for Blood on the Tracks that didn't make it on to that majestic record, and likely will never be released.
When he picks up the phone for a scheduled interview, Irwin, who has been spending the past several days at the Sony Studios in New York City, is in mid-sentence, telling an assistant to make a final copy of a particular song. "I don't ever want to hear it again," he is heard saying, with a small, weary laugh. He excuses himself and explains he is in the midst of combing through songs for Sony's final set of Byrds reissues, and he is adding an entire second album's worth of material -- some recorded in concert, some done in the studio -- to the band's untitled 1970 album. Among the other albums he has compiled for Sony include a Hollies best-of and a Poco anthology.
And for the past year, Irwin has been in charge of rescuing many of the previously unheard songs left behind by Stevie Ray Vaughan and trying to figure out what the hell to do with them. Irwin figures there are dozens of gems still left to be polished and produced to the public, many live tracks and studio leftovers and, most important, songs Vaughan recorded long before forming Triple Threat and, eventually, Double Trouble. Irwin, along with Stevie's older brother Jimmie, has devoted much of the last 12 months to listening to thousands of hours of material and then whittling down the collection to the best of the best.
Originally, Irwin -- who also owns Sundazed Records, a reissue label based in upstate New York -- was brought in to help Jimmie assemble a long-proposed Stevie Ray boxed set. The collection, possibly three discs' worth of material, was supposed to be in stores at the end of 1999. But it likely won't see release till next year, probably around the tenth anniversary of Stevie Ray's death in August 1990.
Irwin isn't concerned about rushing the box out, not when there is still "a mountain of material to be auditioned and considered." Indeed, there exist 30 hours of material Vaughan recorded with the Cobras in Austin in 1975, including an entire unreleased album, and that's just for starters.
"Not that they will see the light of day, but there are sessions and sessions of that stuff," Irwin says. "And there's hours of Jimmie and Stevie playing together, Stevie sitting in with people all over Dallas and Austin, and the stuff he recorded with Triple Threat. Not everything will be included, because that A&R call is Jimmie's. I am friends with him, and I would take him to task if I think he's making a wrong call, and he respects me for that."
That's why Irwin and Jimmie -- and, most important, Epic Records -- decided instead to reissue the existing albums, add some bonus tracks and turn an upgrade of back catalog into a Major Event. On March 23 Epic Records will once more put in music stores all four studio albums Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble cut before the Oak Cliff-born guitarist's death: Texas Flood, Couldn't Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step. The CDs will feature new artwork, additional liner notes and photographs, even a few previously unreleased tracks -- most recorded in concert, some taken from studio sessions. The Soul to Soul disc features the oft-bootlegged marathon Hendrix tribute, "Little Wing/Third Stone from the Sun," a song that goes on so long, Irwin and Jimmie Vaughan had to fade it out just to include it on the disc. But the most revelatory outtakes can be found on Couldn't Stand the Weather, which features a version of Freddie King's "Hide Away" and a take of "Come On (Pt. III)" far different than the one that originally appeared on Soul to Soul.
On the same day, the label will issue yet another Vaughan best-of titled The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 that features 14 songs from the four studio albums, one song from the Back to the Beach soundtrack ("Pipeline," recorded with surf-guitar legend Dick Dale) and another from a hard-to-find promo single ("Leave My Girl Alone").
Scott Greer, in charge of worldwide marketing for Epic and its reissue arm, Legacy, insists the reissues will be accompanied by uncommon fanfare. There will be Stevie Ray cutouts in record stores, limited-edition posters given out to customers who buy one of the discs, and radio and television advertisements. During South by Southwest in Austin this week, an enormous billboard featuring Vaughan's signature guitar looms over his adopted hometown. "You won't be able to be in Austin and not know about these records," Greer insists.
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