The mind's ear

Jimmie Vaughan is two albums into a solo career he didn't necessarily want

Forget, for a moment, his more famous dead brother. Do not make comparisons, and do not buy into the myth that to celebrate one you must tear down the other. Do not think that just because one brother sold hundreds of thousands of records and the other mere thousands that it means anything. To compare and contrast is a famous, familiar pastime--one filled in every space with a thousand notes, one is about nothing but the space in between, and so on and so forth--but it ultimately serves no purpose. They were brothers, yes, raised on the same Oak Cliff diet of the Nightcaps and Freddie King and 1960s AM radio. But they were also singular men who went their own ways, followed their own hearts, found their own voices, grew up and then apart only to come together in the months just before one died and sent the other on his way again.

Jimmie Vaughan, the older brother long ago dwarfed by the myth of his sibling, doesn't need to stand in Stevie Ray's spotlight--or his shadow--to make his case as one of the few blues guitarists around worth a damn. He has two superb records of his own to speak for him; he has a handful of soundtrack singles and one-off guest shots and a fistful of Fabulous Thunderbirds albums that do his bidding. He's the most quiet guitar hero of them all--releasing albums every four years and making music that never gets above a loud whisper. Indeed, the real star of his records is a Hammond B-3 player named Bill Willis, who, once upon a very long time ago, played bass with a blues myth named Freddie King, one of Jimmie's earliest idols.

Only a few weeks ago, Vaughan released Out There, his second solo album of this decade and his lifetime--though you might not know it; it has received so little attention, it seems there's a conspiracy to ignore the thing. Perhaps the reason for this has to do with the passage of time: Unlike his 1994 debut Strange Weather, his new release does not feature a song about his dead brother, and Jimmie, now a veteran of his own solo tours, is no longer a sideman-turned-frontman novelty item. More likely it's the record itself, which is not exactly made of the stuff of pop radio or sexy feature stories. Titled Out There, it's actually more in here, the ultra sound a man makes when he listens to the old echoes rattling around inside his head and makes the reverberations tangible.

Out There is sly and sexy, a romp through the soul '60s in sharkskin shoes and silken shirts and pleated black pants; it's the soundtrack to a burlesque show and a Stax/Volt revue all at once, a bump-and-grind joyride down memory lane in the back of one of those vintage cars Jimmie spends so much time restoring at home in Austin. It's boogie-woogie and back-porch, and Vaughan plays guitar like a man who has only so many notes in him and doesn't want to waste a single one, so he doles them out, teasing and pleasing. That he barely plays guitar at all on the title track, laying down a quiet rhythm while Willis and drummer George Rains keep the beat in their back pockets, says it all.

"The Hammond organ is tubes and wood, and it makes this human sound," Vaughan says. "It sort of moans. It's like it's alive. And then you got Bill Willis, who plays the bass on it, and I just dig it. That's what I dig. I can't help it. I used to like it when I first started listening to that stuff when I was 15 or 16...The space is just as important as the music. That sounds funny to somebody who's not a musician, I guess, but that's my way of thinking. I grew up in the '50s and '60s, and music used to have something to do with phrasing and space.

"See, when you play a bunch of stuff and then you stop and leave some space, that's when your mind absorbs and gets the message. So if you just start playing when the count starts and play all the way through and then stop, there's no feel time," he says, laughing. "It sounds so corny to talk about music, because it's hard to be articulate. But we'll try anyway."

The 47-year-old Vaughan has spent a lifetime in rock and roll: His 1966 tax return shows he made $1,200 the year he turned 15. Back then, he was a member of the Chessmen, perhaps the most legendary of all Dallas bands from that era, having released only a handful of brilliant protopunk singles. They were a garage-rock band playing British Invasion blues, the sound of Texas-born teens pretending to be Jeff Beck pretending to be Freddie King.

"When I was 15, I didn't know the difference between Jeff Beck and Freddie King," he says. "One guy had a bigger amp, and that was Freddie. To me that stuff was really the same thing, until I really started getting into it. But when the Chessmen called me up, it was, get a big amp and let's go to town. And about that time, Hendrix came out, and it was like Muddy Waters' illegitimate stepchild or something--from Mars. To me, it's all the same thing."

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