In Kirby Warnock’s most recent documentary, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Brothers in Blues, ZZ Top vocalist and guitarist Billy Gibbons says of his fellow Texan icons, “There are two types of people: those who know the Vaughan brothers and those who don’t.”
The Vaughans grew up in a 1950s crackerbox Oak Cliff home and took their virtuosic guitar playing to the national music scene, adding to the roster of legendary musicians out of Dallas. Despite their key roles in the music scene, their home city hadn’t done much to pay tribute them.
Filmmaker Kirby Warnock resolved to honor the Vaughan brothers himself.
“It always bothered me that Dallas never honored our musicians, and there are some really great musicians that come from Dallas," he says. "We just don’t tell anyone about it.”
Warnock proposed a public artwork honoring Jimmie and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan be built just blocks from the brothers’ childhood home in Oak Cliff. As he saw it, Dallas honors businessmen, politicians and longhorns, but doesn't put much effort into commemorating the contributions of its artists, even world-renowned trailblazers such as the Vaughans. Warnock echoes a remark made by his old history professor at Baylor University, “Cultural history is as important as the history of battles and politicians.”
The story behind the Oak Cliff statue honoring the Vaughans became a saga on its own, but Warnock's efforts finally came to fruition in 2020, when a work by Casto Solano was unveiled in Kiest Park.
“I am a guitar player, too, but when they picked up their guitars, they played an instrument I was no longer familiar with," Warnock says. "For both of them, the guitar became an extension of their body. Whenever I went to see the Vaughan brothers play anywhere, there was always a crowd of musicians and always somebody famous there too.”
Some of the famous names in the audience, he recalls, included Dicky Betts, Bob Dylan, Billy Gibbons and Jaco Pastorius.
The Vaughan brothers helped revive the Texas blues, bringing the sound to the national stage as they played with performers such as David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life ended in 1990 at age 35 in a fatal helicopter crash after opening a show for Clapton in Wisconsin.
Looking at the stories of the life and career of the Vaughan brothers, Warnock saw cracks in the narratives, inspiring him to create a documentary, which premieres on March 22 in Austin, filling in the blanks.
“There are tons of books and movies out [about Stevie Ray Vaughan], but all the good documentaries always missed Jimmie’s voice,” he says.
Warnock also wanted to include other personal accounts, such as those of Eric Clapton and Jackson Browne, who loaned his recording studio to Stevie Ray for his first album.
Getting this many intimate perspectives was a challenging yet rewarding feat, Warnock says. He remembers the first time he showed the film to Jimmie Vaughan and his emotional response.
“We sat, just the two of us, and watched the film," Warnock says. "After it was over, he turned to me and said ‘I don’t know whether to cry or kiss you!’ For me, that was the biggest compliment.”
The Texas Theatre will screen the documentary later this month before its release on streaming platforms. Jimmie Vaughan will attend and participate in a Q&A session.
“We’ve been supporters of Kirby Warnock’s work for years," says the Texas Theatre's managing partner Barak Epstein. "We always show his films. His films are Dallas-focused, about the Dallas music scene. They are of great interest of Dallas, so we love to show them.”
Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Brothers in Blues will screen at 7 p.m., March 23, at The Texas Theatre (231 W. Jefferson Blvd.), with an introduction and Q&A session with Jimmie Vaughan. Tickets are $17.