In Step by Stevie Ray Vaughn

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in Step by Stevie Ray VaughnAfter a four year hiatus from recording, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble finally released their fourth studio album, In Step in June 1989. The album’s title refers to Vaughan’s long process of finding sobriety following a lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse which nearly took his life in 1986. This critically acclaimed and Grammy award winning album is considered Vaughn’s best by many as it masterfully blends straightforward lyrics with a musical blend of blues, soul, and rock.

Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn formed Double Trouble in 1978 with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. However, they would not achieve mainstream success until the mid 1980s after Vaughn was featured on David Bowie’s platinum-selling 1983 album Let’s Dance. The group was signed to Epic Records and released their debut album, Texas Flood followed quickly by Couldn’t Stand the Weather in 1984, with each peaking in the Top 40 on the album charts. For the group’s third studio album, Soul to Soul, keyboardist Reese Wynans was hired as a fourth member of the band. After constant touring which included several sold out show recordings for the 1986 double live album Live Alive, Vaughan collapsed after a performance in Germany and nearly lost his life. Vaughn went through rehabilitation soon afterwards.

In late 1988, Double Trouble enlisted producer Jim Gaines to work on their long awaited fourth album, a first for the group which had self-produced their previous albums. After aborted attempts to record in New York City, recording sessions were moved to Memphis and later Los Angeles, where a small horn section was added to augment the sound.


Journeyman by Stevie Ray Vaughn
Released: June 6, 1989 (Epic)
Produced by: Jim Gaines & Double Trouble
Recorded: Kiva Studios, Memphis, & Sound Castle and Summa Studios, Los Angeles, January–March, 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The House Is Rockin
Crossfire
Tightrope
Let Me Love You Baby
Leave My Girl Alone
Travis Walk
Wall of Denial
Scratch-N-Sniff
Love Me Darlin’
Riviera Paradise
Stevie Ray Vaughn – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Reese Wynans – Keyboards
Tommy Shannon – Bass
Chris Layton – Drums, Percussion

In Step by Stevie Ray Vaughn

 

The album explodes into action with the fun stomp, “The House Is Rockin'”, co-written by Doyle Bramhall, a longtime associate of both Stevie Ray and older brother Jimmy Vaughan of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Ironically, the first real lead on the album is a fine piano solo by Wynans before Vaughn adds his own blistering short guitar lead. “Crossfire” was a group composition with a groovy bass line by Shannon setting the perfect foundation for the bluesy guitar licks between each line. A real highlight of this track which topped the mainstream rock charts comes near the song’s end where Vaughn’s guitar takes off into a choppy crescendo to complete the track.

Bramhall and Vaughan’s “Tightrope” continues the string of entertaining grooves, with Vaughn’s vocals being particularly soulful and potent here on this track with overt lyrics about the struggles to stay clean. Next comes a couple of blues cover tunes – Willie Dixon’s entertaining “Let Me Love You Baby” with great, upbeat movement, and Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”, a slow, traditional blues delivered perfectly, especially with Wynans’ subtle background organ and Vaughn’s fantastic vocals. “Travis Walk” is a short but interesting instrumental with just enough space for piano and guitar lead sections.

Stevie Ray Vaughn

The best track of the latter part of the album is “Wall of Denial”, built on rotating riffs for an upbeat effect to an otherwise moderately paced song. The great rhythmic accents by Layton and the array of differing guitar tones employed by Vaughn along with a cool, ascending effect all work to make this an overall great tune. “Scratch-N-Sniff” delves into old time rock n’ roll, piano and rhythm driven with Vaugn’s vocals falling somewhere between Chuck Berry and Adam Ant, while “Love Me Darlin'” is a perfect rendition of Muddy Waters classic. The album concludes with the deliberative and jazzy instrumental “Riviera Paradise”, which persists for nearly nine minutes but remains interesting due to various lead sections and subtle mood changes.

In Step was Vaughan’s most commercially successful album, spending nearly a year on the charts and being certified gold. Tragically, this would be his final with Double Trouble as Stevie Ray Vaughn was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.

 

Let’s Dance by David Bowie

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Let's Dance by David BowieAn artist who seemed to constantly reinvent himself, David Bowie created a stylized and soulful new-wave album with a romantic signature on the 1983 album Let’s Dance. It was Bowie’s 15th overall studio album and was co-produced by Nile Rodgers, formerly of Chic, which gave the album (through implicit and explicit suggestion) a post-disco novelty. The result was an album which broke a long commercial slump (Bowie hadn’t had a Top Ten album in seven years) while sacrificing some of the critical cred that Bowie had built with his previous three releases known as the “Berlin Trilogy”, (1977′s Low, 1979′s Lodger and 1980′s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. )

Rodgers was not Bowie’s original choice for the album, as he planned to once again use producer Tony Visconti as he had on the previous five studio albums (including the three listed above). However, Bowie suddenly switched to Rodgers and Visconti was not informed until two weeks into the recording process for Let’s Dance. Bowie also used the album and its subsequent MTV videos to reinvent his image for the 1980s. Having just signed a big deal with EMI Records, Bowie and Rodgers worked to produce a commercially viable album that fused the popular sub-genres of party-funk with the “big drum” eighties dance with just enough Avant Garde edge to keep it interesting.

The album is also notable as one of the earlist recordings for blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, who met Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival and agreed to play on the project despite admitting to being unfamiliar with much of Bowie’s music. However, Vaughan was impressed with Bowie’s knowledge of funky Texas blues and the two talked for hours on the subject.

 


Let’s Dance by David Bowie
Released: April 14, 1983 (EMI)
Produced by: David Bowie & Nile Rodgers
Recorded: Power Station, New York City, December 1982
Side One Side Two
Modern Love
China Grove
Let’s Dance
Without You
Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Shake It
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Horn Arrangements
Nile Rodgers – Guitars, Horn Arrangements
Carmine Rojas – Bass
Tony Thompson – Drums

 

Let’s Dance comes tearing out of the gate with “Modern Love”, about as upbeat and effervescent rocker by David Bowie as you will find in his vast catalog. The track starts with a unique, deadened-guitar sound, which quickly blends with the strong and consistent drum beat by Tony Thompson, who provides this quality throughout the album. Bowie has claimed the song is inspired by Little Richard, and he uses a “rock voice” which almost to the point of being strained. The third single released from the album, “Modern Love” peaked at #2 in the UK while hitting the Top 20 in America.

“China Girl” is a reinterpreted version of a song Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop on that artist’s 1977 album The Idiot. An almost deceptive track, which morphs from a light and poppy tune into something much deeper (even darker) during the bridges with ever-odd sections that build the tension until returning to the original chorus. This song (which also peaked at #2 in the UK) contains a strong bass riff by Carmine Rojas along with bright guitar chords beneath the soft and directed vocals by Bowie.

“Let’s Dance” is David Bowie’s fastest ever selling single, reaching the top of the charts. Released ahead of the album by the same name, the song set the pace for the great commercial success Bowie enjoyed in 1983. It is built on a moderate but methodical bass line with Bowie using yet another style of singing voice above a perfect dance drumbeat. There are some great extended middle parts, which go ludicrously far near in hammering home the brittle funk intent of the song and album, as well as Bowie’s latest image transformation.

The fine original first side of the album concludes with “Without You”. A bit off-beat, yet still very refined, this song is almost like soft version of disco with its high-register vocals, strong bass presence, slight female backing vocals, and just a touch of funky guitar overlay.

However, Let’s Dance is a very uneven record, as the second side sounds like a much cheaper version of the first. “Ricochet” seems to try a bit too hard to get the off-beat syncopation and the result is a song which sounds forced, especially with the elongated arrangement and overuse of spoken voice effect. “Criminal World” is a remake of a track by the glam rock group Metro and employs some eighties production techniques and arrangements. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is a bit more intense but still kind of standard track, with the only real highlight being Vaughan’s lead guitar. The closer “Shake It”, returns to the very funky dance formula (almost an alternate version of “Let’s Dance”) which, if nothing else, solidifies Rodgers influence on this album.

Let’s Dance peaked at #4 and actually Bowie’s first-ever Platinum-selling album, although later sales of earlier albums surpassed that feat. The surprise commercial success of the album proved to be a double-edged sword – it did introduce a whole new generation to the artist but also initiated a prolonged artistic “slump” starting with the disappointing follow-up Tonight a year later, and lasting the better part of a decade.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.