When I heard the news in August 1990 that Stevie Ray Vaughan had perished in a helicopter crash, I knew it was one of those moments which would cause many people around the world to pause and reflect. Vaughan was the last of his generation, and a giant of the electric guitar. The man’s death was not only an enormous loss to his fans, but to the music world in general. Eric Clapton, who had performed with Vaughan on the same day as the accident, was understandably in a state of shock (two of his road crew were killed as well, not to mention the pilot). Not since the death of Jimi Hendrix nearly twenty years earlier had there been such an outpouring of grief for an American guitarist.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Because soon after it was announced that Vaughan had completed an album with his brother Jimmie, best known for his work with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The two had been plotting for years apparently to do something together, and in 1990 they finally achieved that ambition.
We get going with “Hard To Be”, penned by Stevie Ray and Doyle Bramhall, a song that is pleasant enough, with an addictive riff that is as about as old fashioned as they come (yet in the best possible way). Likewise “White Boots,” where the brothers Vaughan simply take the old and make it sound new again. The instrumental “D/FW” has Jimmie and Stevie trading licks, proving that Jimmie was no slouch either when it came to the guitar. And speaking of Texas, “Good Texan”, written by Jimmie and Nile Rodgers (who also produced the album) is a well-mannered blues-pop tune, while “Hillbillies from Outerspace” has a strong Booker T & The MGs feel to it in the vein of “Green Onions”.
The country-blues of “Long Way from Home” provides a much needed adrenalin boost, however the best song has to be “Tick Tock”, a social/polemical/environmental statement, and about the closest thing Stevie came to recording a pop song. There is some beautiful guitar on this track, and one which may well have proven to be a new direction for Vaughan himself had he have lived to record a follow up to In Step.
On the funky, Hendrix inspired “Telephone Song” Stevie plays the wah wah like a demon, with so much force and passion that it’s a shame Nile Rodgers decided to bring his guitar down in the mix, instead of up front, which is where it ought to be. The funky “Baboom/Mama Said” is one of those laid-back jams reminiscent of Hendrix, and quite a departure from anything Stevie Ray and Jimmie had yet explored.
The highlight of the LP would have to be “Brothers”, on which Stevie and Jimmie duel it out on just a single guitar, handing it to one another according to the moment, something they used to do apparently as kids. It’s tremendous fun, that’s for sure, and about the best thing to be had, amongst what is, overall, a quality affair between brothers.
Released nearly a month after his death, Family Style would prove to be Stevie’s swan song, and a depressing one at that, at least for the listener. Nevertheless, there was still cause for celebration, both then and now. Because Stevie and Jimmie had set out what they’d always wanted to: that is record an album of down home, good to honest music which not only they but the whole world could enjoy.