When you see a box set of 12 discs with the words “complete recordings” in the title, you might presume that set is, in fact, complete and exhaustive. But when it comes to The Complete Epic Recordings Collection, don’t be too quick to think you can replace your Stevie Ray Vaughan library in one swoop.
To be fair, Legacy Records are mostly honest when they bill the collection as being the full official canon of Stevie Ray Vaughan AND Double Trouble. This means they’ve assembled the recordings from Vaughan, accompanied by his consistently hot rhythm section of drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. Later, this trio was augmented by the organ work of Reese Wynans, who added considerable depth to the group’s sound. Their output included the studio albums Texas Flood (1983), Couldn’t Stand The Weather (1984), Soul To Soul (1985), and In Step (1989). In addition, the box features previously released live shows recorded in Austin (In the Beginning from 1980), Montreux (1982 and 1985), Carnegie Hall (1984), and 1986’s Live Alive which includes sets from Montreux, Austin, and Dallas.
If you’re a Vaughan devotee, odds are you already have most, if not all the above, including video versions of various shows, especially the legendary Montreux appearances. But unless you’ve found a bootleg of A Legend In The Making—Live At The El Mocambo, recorded in Toronto, Canada on July 20, 1983 for radio and only available on promo copies, The Complete Epic Recordings Collection will be your first opportunity to hear the concert. In addition, there are two “archive” discs which are primarily outtakes in the studio of familiar Vaughan tracks, instrumental jams, and rejected tracks. It’s these three discs that will ensure Vaughan completists will be required to purchase the box despite any duplication to their existing collection.
Speaking of duplication, because of the number of live concerts that are part of the new box, there’s considerable repetition. For but one example, “Love Struck Baby,” the opening track of Texas Flood, also appears on In The Beginning when Jackie Newhouse was the bassist. The classic trio of Vaughan, Shannon, and Layton play it on A Legend In The Making, Live At Montreux (1982), and Live At Carnegie Hall. Wynans’ organ added a new dimension to the song on Live Alive where brother Jimmy Vaughan also contributed his six-stringer. Speaking of Jimmy, he was one of the guests on the second half of Live At Carnegie Hall alongside Dr. John on keyboards and the Roomful of Blues horn section. Here, numbers like “Pride and Joy” get a treatment you won’t hear anywhere else.
But for some listeners, six versions of songs like “Love Struck Baby” may be more “Love Struck Baby” than they want, and there are numerous other staples delivered in more than a few concerts. So what isn’t included? First, if you have a copy of 2000’s four-disc SRV, you’ll want to keep it. It has a number of non-Double Trouble tracks, including appearances by Vaughan on other performers’ albums, acoustic performances, and a 1977 version of “Thunderbird” from when Vaughan gigged with the Cobras. It also has a seriously cool version of “Pipeline” credited to Vaughan and Double Trouble, but for some reason it’s not on the new box.
In addition, while it was released on Epic Records and was Vaughan’s first posthumous release in 1990, there’s nothing from Family Style, the first and last full collaboration between Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan. True, Double Trouble wasn’t involved on this one. It’s also understandable that albums like In Session (1999) with Vaughan and Albert King sharing the stage wouldn’t be represented. Such performances were on different labels.
So your interest in the new box is going to depend on just how much you love SRV. For the more casual fan, one good best-of compilation would be sufficient. If so, choose one that has both studio and live tracks. In both their earlier raw concerts and their latter, more polished performances, Double Trouble was a dynamic and powerful group. If you don’t need 12 albums, SRV would be the way to go.
One annoyance is the packaging. Legacy was not always kind identifying each disc on the facsimile covers. For example, if you want to pull out In Step and don’t know what the original cover looked like, you’ll have to root through the admittedly fine booklet to find out which disc it is. Still, The Complete Epic Recordings Collection is not only a release for longtime lovers of the Texas blues, but a way for newcomers to experience a significant chunk of Vaughan’s catalog. For me, Stevie Ray was the finest flower of the Texas blues renaissance and no one has come close to replacing him. In Buddy Guy’s “Who’s Gonna Fill Those Shoes,” Guy praises a litany of blues greats including Son House, Robert Johnson, the Kings, “Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon … Sonny Boy too.” The last name in the parade is Stevie Ray. There’s a reason for that.
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