SRV Talks About Montreux
"Jackson Browne has probably been the most important thing in all this [Montreux/ Bowie tour]. He saw us at Montreux and we jammed and everything for about eight hours at this club. We took one break for about 20 minutes. We were having fun, needless to say. After the night was over, he offered us his studio for free - the use of his equipment, his engineers, his, you know, everything. And not long afterwards [November '82] we took him up on it and we were supposed to pay for the tape and he ended up givin' us the tape, too. But he's incredible. All he wanted was to see us do what we wanted to do. We just did it ourselves." Music (Florida Edition) Sept. 8, 1983, Eric Snider
"We weren't sure how we'd be accepted. As soon as we were finished, someone came backstage to meet us. [David Bowie and I went] to the musicians' bar at the casino, where we talked for hours. [Double Trouble] ended up playing at the bar for several nights and Jackson Browne came in and jammed with us." Guitar World, Sept. '83, Frank Joseph
"[Jerry Wexler] helped us get onto that show, which started a whole chain of events. That's where David Bowie heard us. It's not just a jazz show anymore - they have a blues night and a country night - Bow Wow Wow played there, Laurie Anderson, too, okay. Then around November or so, he called while we were doing our album and asked me to play on his record. The rest is, ahh, history." Sounds, Sept. 24, 1983, Sandy Robert
"After seeing the band at a show in Austin Texas, famed record legend Jerry Wexler helped to arrange our appearance at Montreux. Having never traveled a lot, a trip to Switzerland itself seemed exciting. The show in '82 was mostly dedicated to acoustic blues artists - with the exception being us."
"We hit the stage in standard tear-down-the-house fashion. Our performance was soon met with a number of "boos" from the audience. This made it difficult but we didn't let up. However, after the show we felt heartbroken and bewildered. Was this meant to be?"
"That same night we met David Bowie, who was in the audience. We talked for a while that night and later Stevie came to play on his Let's Dance record and almost did his world tour. The next night we played the musician's bar, downstairs from the stage we had played the night before. At the end of his performance, Jackson Browne and his band came down and we all proceeded to jam until the sun came up. Jackson offered his studio to us if we ever wanted to use it while in Los Angeles - free of charge! After all was said and done this trip proved to be a moving experience in many ways."
"Little did we know, however, that the first trip would lead to recording the tapes at Jackson Browne's studio that would become Texas Flood or that Stevie would do the work he did with a guy named David Bowie or that we would receive our first GRAMMY for the Atlantic album Blues Explosion: Live From Montreux '82."
"The trip back in '85 was different. The people were there to hear us. The place was packed and we were still ready to tear the house down."
"Sometimes what appear as failures, are really successes in disguise."
I'm finding writing on an acquaintance who has passed on is not a little daunting. Memory recall is inevitably spotted with "If only" and "What ifs". My association with Stevie ran a short course of only a few months, our relationship only a few weeks, so my anecdotal resources are limited to just a couple of stories.
Claude Nobs had for many years run the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. As I was living in a small village close to Montreux, the festival was an annual must. One night in 1982 Claude phoned me and told me of a new act he was putting on in a day or so. He knew that I was a big R&B and blues fan and thought I might enjoy this new kid. Come the show, blasting through a short but riveting set, SRV completely floored me. I probably hadn't been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck in the early 60's with his band the Tridents at Eel Pie Island, London. He was so complete, so vital and inventive with the form.
Stevie and I had drinks after the show and we talked quite a bit about his influences and American music in general. We got on immediately as we shared a love for the playing of Albert King amongst others and in my enthusiasm I gave him a full run down of my 45 and 78 record collection which spanned from early Red Prysock, Louis Jordan and the Alan Freed Rock and Roll band through Broonzy, Hooker and Howlin' Wolf to British Old School like Bond, Mayall and Alexis Korner. I was deeply impressed with Stevie's knowledge of and interest in British artists like John Renborn and Davy Graham, musicians that I would never have guessed from his playing that he would have had any interest in. I was also hugely flattered when he brought up my own albums Heroes and Scary Monsters, asking how it was working with Robert Fripp and Pete Townshend.
At the end of the evening I took my courage in my hands and asked him if he would have any interest in working with me on my next album which was due to start at the end of the year. Although I had had a big hit in the States with "Fame" a few years previously I was not exactly a household name and was more regarded as an Alternative artist who got lucky. In fact albums like Low, Heroes and Scary Monsters had indeed put me back on a kind of fringe.
And as Stevie's music was such hard core blues I expected and would have understood a polite "thanks but no thanks". You can't imagine how delighted I was when he accepted the offer on the spot and said he'd love to try out a new kind of record just for the experience. When I asked if touring could also be a possibility he again replied in the affirmative, "'Hell, yea", he said, "I tour real good".
December rolled around and after only a couple or so weeks in the studio Nile Rodgers and I had put down the tracks and vocals of my new album, Let's Dance. All that was left was to overdub the lead guitar. In the third week of December Stevie strolled into the Power Station and proceeded to rip-up everything one thought about dance records. After his blistering solo on the title song he ambled into the control room and with a cheeky smile on his face, shyly quipped, "That one's for Albert", knowing full well that I would understand that King's own playing was the genesis for that solo. One after another he knocked down solo upon solo, song upon song. In a ridiculously short time he had become midwife to the sound that I had had ringing in my ears all year. A dance form that had its melody rooted in a European sensibility but owed its impact to the blues."
Tour rehearsals were a fairly disjointed affair for me as I was also being shunted here, there and everywhere to do press for the albums release. By the time I got to Dallas the band had already honed the songs to a near finished state. Although pretty disjointed himself as drugs were seriously taking their toll, Stevie was pulling notes out of the air that no one could have dreamed would have worked with my songs. In fact there is a bootleg out there somewhere containing one days playing, a gem for those that can find it.
Apart from a couple of dreadful hangers-on that had fastened themselves onto Stevie's coat tails, things swung along pretty well. Stevie's manager had asked the tour promoter if, while on tour, it was possible for Stevie to fly out and do a couple of German TV shows on our days off. The promoter had specified that as long as Stevie made it to the next gig we would have no problem with it. All in all, we were really stoked about getting to Europe and the first gig.
At the end of our work in Dallas the band made its way to New York and I again left for Europe to recommence interviews and TV and such. Then about three days in front of the first gig I got a heartbreaking call from my office. "Are you sitting down, David? I'm afraid you have a new lead guitar player. Stevie is no longer on the tour."
At the eleventh hour, literally, Stevie's manager had pulled an unbelievable trick. One half hour before the coach was due to leave for the airport and while Stevie and the rest of the band were loading their bags onto it, the manager had demanded a meeting with the tour promoter in the lobby of the hotel. He then point blank demanded to renegotiate Stevie's fee, there and then, giving him a higher salary than any other musician on the tour otherwise he would pull Stevie from the tour.
As I was thousands of miles away in Belgium and with twenty minutes to go, our promoter took it upon himself to make a decision which would change the entire sound of the show. "Arnie," he called to Arnold Dunn, our tour manager, "take Mr. Vaughan's bags off the coach, he has decided to pass on this tour."
When the rest of the party arrived in Belgium, Carmine Rojas, my bass player, told me that it was one of the most heartbreaking moments he had ever witnessed on the road, Stevie left standing on the sidewalk with his bags surrounding him. Carmine was convinced that Stevie had no idea that his manager was going to pull such a scam or, if he did, that this guy had convinced Stevie that he could pull it off. Carlos Alomar, the bandleader, had quickly recommended phoning Earl Slick who learned the entire show on the flight over to Belgium.
At first, I was both devastated and angry. But not really sure who to be angry at. The stupid manager who tried a juvenile blackmail or our tour guys for making such an important decision without waiting to get hold of me. You just have to get over these things pretty fast or buckle under, so the tour kicked off and did its thing around the world, Slickly performing like a trooper with no rehearsal whatsoever.
I saw and heard nothing from Stevie till the summer of 1990. We found ourselves both playing gigs in the same city somewhere on tour in America and got together for a while in the afternoon before our respective gigs. The transformation in Stevie was amazing. He had a disposition so sunny and optimistic that he positively shined with happiness and fulfillment. We spent some time talking about our sobriety and the astonishing effect it had had on both our lives. I saw the first twenty minutes or so of his show and then had to leave for my own. Just a few weeks later I heard the news of that terrible crash.
I value the short time we had spent working together as one of the greatest musical experiences of my life and I doubt very much whether that thrill of hearing him slam into my songs with the quiet mastery that was his alone, will ever be repeated quite that overwhelmingly. I'm just so thankful that I got to see him in 1990 in such a high place in his life, contained and truly happy, doing the one thing that he lived for, playing the blues.
The Montreux Jazz and International Music Festival is a wondrous laboratory for an emerging photographer, there are so many photo-ops, so much culture, so much extraordinary music (and then there are the girls). I was 25 years old and the official photographer of The Montreux Festival in the summer of '82 when an unsigned artist by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan rolled into town.
Montreusien concertgoers typically demonstrated a sophistication rarely found in the more parochial concert settings in America where English and Spanish are the sole languages of success. In Montreux, communicating with an audience was routinely simpler. The currency was the spirit of what took place on the stage; the honesty, the expressiveness -The Soul. As a result, audiences frequently went wild over shows when lyrics weren't understood or when the music was esoteric.
By any measure, Stevie Ray should have enthralled every person in the Montreux Casino that night. But the audience on July 17, 1982, had a fateful blind spot. This particular crowd preferred the corny blues revues that were delighting European audiences at the time, and the pale white man who strode across the stage with the hefty tattoo across his chest wasn't that.
There was something genuinely unsettling about his appearance - the ragged teeth and scowl, the cowboy hat, the boots and matching swagger. While some in the audience saw a cartoonish white man straight out of central casting about to rip off a hallowed Afro-American cultural idiom, I saw something else, somehow Stevie Ray telegraphed that he was capable of delivering something extremely rare.
And Stevie Ray didn't disappoint.
With a ripping intensity and fiery originality on guitar, and with vocals in a plaintive blues-rock rasp, it became clear very quickly that he was the genuine article. But where did this guy come from?! How did he end up here? Just who was this guy? Wow.
When the boos began, I wondered if they were in fact boos or hoots of appreciation. As the solid set was muscling along, there was no mistaking it - they were boos - and they were growing in number and decibels. I was exasperated and recall leaning over to several friends - all Europeans - pleading, "This is insane; this guy is the real deal," a concept that was only met with polite acknowledgement.
The audience's exhortations found their mark. Stevie Ray became rattled and disconnected some as he barreled through the last of his tunes. Before disappearing backstage, he shot a nasty glance to an audience that had just kicked him in the gut.
I felt terribly. Someone needed to tell him not to despair and that this was about an audience that preferred its blues Black - and that he was misjudged. As I was one of the only Americans on staff, and as Stevie Ray was, if nothing else, American, I elected myself to do the explaining and raced back stage. Stevie Ray was slumped on a small road case in the cramped back stage area. He looked as if he'd been hit by a sledgehammer. A bare light bulb hanging from the six-foot ceiling provided an accent of further bleakness. Photographers more disciplined than myself would have grabbed the shot. My creative expression, however, was not on my mind when I muttered something like, "Excuse me, -umm, that was great." Stevie Ray looked up with an acknowledgement. "And, and I need to tell you, I've worked here for years and I know this audience..." Stevie Ray interrupted and wondered if I was an American, "Yeah, that's why I came back to tell you - there are those here that just don't like the fact that you're a new white guy on Blues Night. That's it. That's all it is. Don't let this get you down. You were killing. You are so good." That was the first of many occasions I would see Stevie Ray smile; it was as if I had given him a transfusion. We chatted for a few minutes longer and as I turned to leave, I noticed that David Bowie was waiting to pay his respects. I turned to Stevie with a wink and smile and said, "See?" Jackson Browne wasn't far behind. And so it began.
That was nearly twenty years ago. I'm no longer a professional photographer. I had borrowed photography as my passport to the world, as a way of entering "life," and then moved on. Not surprisingly, I maintained the antonym of an archive, and that was in storage when SONY MUSIC called requesting shots of Stevie Ray from Montreux in '82 and his triumphant return in '85. I had little idea of what I had and no idea what box it would be in.
Only one name could have coaxed me to a storage facility for two summer days digging through nearly seventy boxes to see what I could find. It wasn't much as I had given away so many original images. When I found a few shots of Stevie Ray, I was elated - not because the pictures were great but because I was concerned I might not find any pictures at all. As I sat in the musty storage locker covered in sweat and grime, listening to Couldn't Stand the Weather while sitting on top of a box and straining to see the nuances in a color slide by a bulb that hung from the ceiling, I thought again of the shot I didn't take of Stevie Ray, of the special relationship that grew between us and the fact that the bond was as vibrant as ever, as he alone took me back to so many memories locked away in storage.