The Barre Opera House will be sizzling with the blues at 8 p.m. Friday when Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughn and his seven-piece band take the stage for this Celebration Series concert.
Vaughn is a four-time Grammy winner and his playing is iconic. Barre’s staid Opera House will be hosting the hottest blues event of the year. Vaughan, says Guitar Player Magazine, “is a virtual deity — a living legend.” According to GPM, he’s also a vital link between contemporary music and its proud heritage, as well as being a longtime avatar of retro cool.
Texas blues is a regional style of music. Early on, in its original form, it was characterized by jazz and swing influences. More recently the music has moved closer to blues-rock and southern rock.
Vaughan is a pure example of the style. He grew up in Dallas where his love affair with blues and rock ’n’ roll started. Listening to R&B and blues on the radio, seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, watching his uncles pick country tunes on their guitars: all of those experiences helped shape his youthful musical interests.
An injury, however, got Vaughn started on guitar. As he related in an online interview, while home from school recuperating from a broken collarbone, “My dad’s friend gave me a guitar and said, ‘Play this,’” Vaughan remembered. “They were afraid I’d get in trouble around the house. It was an acoustic cowboy guitar with three strings. I learned a Jimmy Reed thing and I’ve been playing ever since.
“After about a week I knew this was what I wanted to do. I thought to myself, if I really practice I can get some money and get a car and I can split.”
Eventually Vaughn was good enough to acquire several guitars and start playing out. He cut his guitar playing chops in Texas with a series of bands, most notably the Chessmen, who opened once for a hotshot new guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. Then, in 1974, Vaughan hooked up with vocalist and harmonica player Kim Wilson to start the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
That band reached its peak of popularity with the 1986 release of “Tuff Enuff,” a classic of the genre. Vaughn remained with the band until 1990, and when he recorded again it was with his kid brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album, “Family Style,” was a huge hit upon its release in the fall of 1990, but its success was overshadowed by Stevie Ray’s death in a helicopter crash just weeks after the album’s completion.
Jimmie Vaughn has over the past 30 years dedicated his life to making sure the blues not only stays alive, but remains full of life and is an inspiration to all who listen. It’s a spirit he holds close, and for over 50 years of holding the blues close inside him, Vaughan continues to perform and record.
For the past few years, Vaughan has been recording a series of albums dedicated to the songs he’s always held in high esteem, recorded by artists that inspired him from his very earliest days of performing. Vaughan’s most recent album, his seventh as a bandleader, released this year is “Baby Please Come Home,” which reviewers call “a rolling and righteous celebration of everything the blues can be.”
“Playing what you feel has always been my main goal,” Vaughan says.
The album features the songs of original artists like Lloyd Price, Jimmy Donley, Lefty Frizell, Richard Berry, Chuck Willis, Bill Doggett, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Fats Domino, Gatemouth Brown and Jimmy Reed.
Vaughn says this is a list of some of the prime purveyors of America’s greatest music. That it can range from seminal bluesmen like Jimmy Reed to one of the founding fathers of modern country music Lefty Frizell proves the point that Vaughan has always believed: Music is not about what it is labeled, but rather how it makes the listener feel.
Vaughn’s seven-piece band is comprised of top bluesmen. Of special interest to Vermont music enthusiasts is Grammy-nominated Swanton native Jason Corbiere on drums. He has also performed with Roomful of Blues.