This book is the first of two by Craig Hopkins that chronicle the life of noted blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. The second volume, His Final Years, 1983-1990, will likely be more popular as it covers Stevie and Double Trouble (bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton) as they transitioned from local players on the Texas blues club circuit into Grammy-nominated musicians who created Platinum-selling albums.
His Early Years, 1954-1982 is for the more serious Vaughanologist interested in getting to know Stevie’s roots. Hopkins creates a very thorough biography of Stevie’s life through scores of interviews with family and friends as well as fellow musicians and others in the music business. He also uses material from over a hundred magazine and newspaper articles, some of which allow Stevie to comment on what was then happening in his life.
The first six years are covered rather briefly over a few pages as mother Martha and brother Jimmie, who would become a well-known musician himself, help Stevie reveal his very early years. Hopkins then starts to highlight musical events, such as the guitars that came into Stevie’s life, the first of which was a Sears toy guitar on October 3rd, 1961. Also, documented are the musicians he played with and their public performances. As a member of The Chantones, Stevie debuted at the Cockrell Hill Jubilee June 26th, 1965. A photo and playbill of the event are included.
In fact, the whole book is so chock full of pictures that the images tell Stevie’s story almost as well as the text does. Going all the way back to the beginning, there’s a picture taken the month he was born included with the hospital it occurred and his birth certificate. Through photographs and playbills, an overview of Stevie’s music career is presented. Hopkins covers all the different bands he played in and lists all known concert dates. The shows didn’t all go smoothly as evidenced by Stevie and Double Trouble being booed and heckled when opening for The Clash on June 8, 1982 at the Coliseum in Austin, TX.
The next month, however, things took off after their performance on July 17th at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival. They were the first unsigned band to play, and though they received a few boos, it was the most important concert they had ever played. David Bowie was in attendance and would later ask Stevie to play on Let’s Dance. Producer John Hammond, Jr., who had helped the careers of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, heard a tape of the show and it led to a recording contract. Jackson Browne jammed with Stevie in the musicians’ lounge and offered up his Los Angeles studio where the band recorded a demo. The rest is history.
His Early Years, 1954-1982 is an essential book for hardcore Stevie Ray Vaughan devotees, and with it, Hopkins reveals himself to be a skilled biographer. He has my interest in whatever topic he decides to cover.