Stevie Ray Vaughan Gallery: The Story Behind the Photos
When I first saw Stevie Ray Vaughan in March 1983, I knew I’d found a musician with the incredible talent and style to give my Leicas a run for their money. Hearing and seeing Vaughan was truly a decisive moment in my photography and in my life. He had moves to spare and the sound to back them up, and he was right on the brink of the fame he so deserved. Remember what passed for music in the early 1980s? Vaughan managed to penetrate all of that and even became a regular on MTV. And he brought the blues and many of his influences, including his brother Jimmie Vaughan and others such as Buddy Guy and Albert King, right along with him.
For all the flare and flash of his onstage persona, Vaughan was a humble man who gave his all to his playing. And he played all the time – that’s what he lived for. He loved music intensely and it showed. This was one of the things that made him such a great subject for the camera.
I met him at the time my photography was really evolving and that was a blessing. Capturing the essence of a musician in a fraction of a second is what I sought then and what I still seek. Exploring the light and the music I love and turning it into its visual equivalent is my life’s passion. I can’t imagine having a better chance to express that passion than through Stevie and his generosity toward his audience. His skill, his tone, and his contagious love for his guitar made my work very, very easy. I miss him often. There will never be another like Stevie Ray Vaughan. What a privilege it was to hear and see him onstage and know him as a friend.
Playing “Lenny” at Fitzgerald’s, Houston, March 25, 1983
Stevie devoted his signature tune to his wife. One of his guitars also shared her name, a maple-neck Strat that she and some good friends had bought him years before. The song “Lenny,” a beautiful instrumental, featured Stevie’s liberal use of the whammy bar to approximate a lap steel sound. Stevie and his brother Jimmie also played slide guitar. When they were kids, both brothers used to watch Alvino Rey make his guitar talk on the Lawrence Welk show – as did I!
Encore at Fitzgerald’s, Houston, March 25, 1983
A favorite photo from that first show. I was working with my Leica to attempt to capture the aural-heavy strings on a classic instrument and loud feedback with a huge dose of finesse, so I used the ambient light effect as a kind of visual feedback or ambient afterbeat. A friend of mine says Stevie looks gleeful in this shot, and I agree. He loved playing and being onstage, no matter where, no matter the size of the venue or the crowd.
For many years Stevie had appeared monthly at Sara Fitzgerald’s place in the Houston Heights, and the audience had surged lately with word of mouth about how incredibly good this guy was. Plus he had his first album in the can and he was set to tour with David Bowie in support of “Let’s Dance.” Stevie had been “discovered” by Bowie at Montreaux and he added an extraordinary dimension to the Thin White Duke’s exploration of American R&B. As for the tour – well as they say, the rest is history. He did get the Chinese beer cap from Bowie, though!
Texas Flood Record Release Party, Fitzgerald’s, Houston, June 20, 1983
On this steamy June night, Stevie played his Texas Flood record release show at the Houston club he’d been gigging at every month for years. After an extremely eventful year, he was about to leave small venues behind for good. What’s it like being in those clubs? Hot to the point of exhaustion. It becomes so hot the camera’s viewfinder fogs up and you shoot by instinct. I stood shoulder to shoulder with a packed house of rollicking, shaking, singing fans dancing together so closely that I couldn’t tell where my perspiration ended and my neighbor’s began. The musicians got so wet under those bright lights that you almost felt sorry for them, but they had to keep playing, and you had to be up there near the stage because the music’s so damn good! It pulls you in and holds you there. Stevie’s shows were always red hot.
Fitzgerald’s, Houston, June 20, 1983
Another shot from the Texas Flood record release party. At this point, Stevie usually just played his Gibson ES-335 if he broke a string on his Stratocaster, although sometimes he played it on the song “Rude Mood.”
Sam Houston Coliseum, January 31, 1987
This was Stevie’s first clean show in Houston after he very nearly died from drugs and alcohol. He was treated for drug and alcohol abuse in the second half of 1986. As a recovering addict, he confessed how nervous he was before the performance, but there was no trace of any anxiety in his brilliant playing or his composure onstage that night. I believe a bit of the ecstasy he felt is evident in this shot. His joy with the music was contagious and just poured out of him. Photographing his shows was pure bliss, and for me the high continued for days after he’d gone on to the next city.
Encore at Sam Houston Coliseum, January 31, 1987
This is another favorite shot of mine from Stevie’s first clean show in Houston. He was playing “Pride and Joy,” and I love the headdress and the expression on his face. I’ve always printed this image with a warm tone to emulate Edward Curtis’ photographic prints and photogravures. In fact, this was the first negative I ever printed as a digital pigment print.
Outside the Houston Astrodome, September 2, 1989
I photographed this during the Labor Day weekend show when Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble shared the bill with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe Ely, and the Who. To really understand the power of Stevie’s playing, you have to look beyond the equipment and into his heart and at his strong, beautiful hands. In a sacrifice of blood for the blues, he frequently gave up his calluses, skin, and fingernails to the enormous strings that were an integral part of his sound. He also had a wonderfully warm, tight handshake – my mother told me never to trust a person with a weak grip. No problems here!
Texas Flood 1, 2 and 3: Houston Astrodome, September 2, 1989
These three images are among my favorites for many reasons. I almost lost them too. After I shot the show, the two rolls of Plus-X were somehow buried at the bottom of my camera bag. We pushed the film in development until it was as dense as a good cup of cowboy coffee. They were extremely hard to print because of that and because of the lighting conditions, but they are absolutely worth it.
One of the last times I saw Stevie, in May 1990, I showed him the contact sheets. He picked these three shots as his favorites. He is actually playing the solo of “Texas Flood” and the photos are all on one strip of five negatives. The show was on Labor Day weekend, which is hellishly hot in Texas, and it was typically bright and sunny that day. But when Stevie started to play this song, the dark clouds came rolling in while he pulled those chords out of the guitar he called Number One.
Outside the Houston Astrodome, September 2, 1989
This is another shot of Stevie from the “Texas Flood” series outside the Houston Astrodome. You can really see the size of those guitar strings and the power of Stevie’s hands. This power was reflected by the sound coming out of Number One and sweeping through the crowd like a storm in the middle of a Texas summer. He appears to be busting out of the frame here. He used to say he played like he was busting out of jail.
Sam Houston Coliseum, November 24, 1989
This shot is from the “Fire Meets the Fury” tour Stevie did with Jeff Beck – what a show! Stevie was featuring songs from his great new album, In Step, a very fine collection of music that explored his and his songwriting partner Doyle Bramhall’s relationship with sobriety. That may sound a bit dull or preachy, but not in their hands. Just listen to songs like “House Is Rockin” and “Tightrope.” Stevie and his band did lots of fast, hard playing in this set. I always loved the lighting at the venue. Occasionally the sound at the coliseum left something to be desired, but those spots! This image has almost classic Rembrandt lighting – I call this the “Dutch Masters shot.”
Tracy Anne Hart:
Best known for her photographs of musicians, Tracy Anne Hart also shoots images of architecture and nature. Her prints have been shown in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. Hart, a second-generation photographer, has co-owned The Heights Gallery in Houston since 1984 with her late father, famous photographer Leonard M. Hart. Tracy and her father also ran the Houston Camera Shows until 2007, and she is experienced with using, selling, and pricing a large range of camera formats.
Tracy’s images appear on the front and back covers of the Stevie Ray Vaughan CD The Fire Meets the Fury, as well as in Sony Music’s newly released 30th anniversary edition of Texas Flood. She is currently working on publishing a book of her Stevie Ray Vaughan photographs. Her work is represented by the online music galleries Rock Paper Photo and The Heights Gallery.