Q&A with scholar and author Craig Hopkins - a leading authority on the life and music of Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Blues has had a cyclical popularity, and we are still waiting for the next artist to rejuvenate it for a mass audience like Stevie did in the 1980's. "

Craig Hopkins: The Lone Star Of Stevie

Craig Hopkins is internationally recognized as a leading authority on the life and music of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Hopkins has been honored with the Keeping Blues Alive Award for Literature for his writing on the artist. He serves as director for a nonprofit assistance program for music artists, and is developing a museum to house his enormous memorabilia collection. Craig Hopkins’ books “Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night”, is one of the most lavishly illustrated and detailed musician biographies ever written. In a day-by-day format, Craig Hopkins presents an award-winning and unprecedented celebration of Vaughan's life and music.

His Early Years, 1954-1982, the first book, covers the complete history of the guitar legend's roots, from his childhood to the eve of his first major record release. The book features rare and intimate photographs from Vaughan's youth and early days as a budding musician, details about his earliest gigs and unreleased recordings, and a personnel list of his twenty-odd bands over the course of his twenty-five-year career. The second book, His Final Years, 1983-1990, covers Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's recording career, from their debut release and their performance at Carnegie Hall through their rise to international stardom. Filled with hundreds of photographs and packed with incredible detail, the book takes readers moment by moment through the exciting and sometimes controversial journey to Vaughan's worldwide success. In addition, the second volume features a special section on Vaughan's guitars and equipment. Hopkins also documents Vaughan's ongoing legacy up to the present day. Day by Day, Night After Night tells Vaughan's story from birth to the abrupt and tragic end of his bustling career in 1990, when at the age of thirty-five, only four years into his triumph over the demons of addiction, he died in a helicopter crash minutes after sharing the stage with Eric Clapton and other fellow blues stars. Both books are filled with first-hand testimonials from the band members, family, friends and associates who knew him best; stories from the studio and the road; and detailed documentation of tour dates, recordings, broadcasts, publications, collector's items and more. For fans of this Texas guitar legend and blues music history in general, Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night is the ultimate collector's item.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

I am very proud of Texas' blues heritage. From Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and Lightnin' Hopkins, to Freddie King, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others, the blues from Texas is special and seminal. With the confluence of blues, jazz, country, western, conjunto and rock due to Texas' geographic location, each genre contributed to the other to create something new and unique.

How started the thought of book and website about SRV?

I was a record collector looking for all the recordings Stevie Ray Vaughan made as a guest artist. I also became interested in his life story. In the early 1990's there was no complete discography or biography, so I began to do research. I started a newsletter in 1993 to share and trade information and rare recordings. That led to fan conventions and making many new friends around the world. Fans seeking back issues of the newsletters inspired the first two books. The website was simply a replacement of printed newsletters in 1998. Record collecting led to memorabilia collecting – stage wardrobe, jewelry, instruments and equipment, handwritten lyrics, etc. Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night was the result of those 18 years of research and collecting.

What characterized Stevie philosophy and music?

Stevie's music was a combination of all the genres he heard as a boy – blues, rock and roll, country and western, jazz, etc. He learned from the masters, particularly the blues greats, to play with passion and strength with every note, every song. His music was the result of total dedication to mastering his instrument and tone, and later in his career learning to sing with confidence and emotion. Some excellent musicians can only play one or two styles or tempos, but Stevie could play blues, rock, jazz or country with equal grit and passion. His music stands apart from most musicians because of his technique, tone, passion and variety.

Why did you think that Stevie Ray Vaughan music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because of the things I mentioned above, and the failure of successors to take the music to another level. Stevie's approach took from the masters and added the flair of incredible technique, tone and passion. Although there are many fine blues musicians who have come on the scene in the past 25 years, I am not aware of any who have exceeded what Stevie did or truly added something new. I believe my opinion is borne out by the general decline in popularity of the blues over the past 15 years. For example, in the 1990's there were a dozen or more blues clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but in the past ten years they dwindled to one or two. Blues has had a cyclical popularity, and we are still waiting for the next artist to rejuvenate it for a mass audience like Stevie did in the 1980's. On the other hand, I do not believe the current trough in blues popularity is as deep as it was in the 1970's, in large part due to Stevie's music.

Which meetings and collaborations have been the most important experiences for you?

For Day by Day, Night After Night I interviewed 110 people and worked with dozens of photographers and countless fans. Each in their own way contributed something special to the research. Some of those persons have since died, and I was very fortunate to get at least some of their recollections recorded. In particular, the late Doyle Bramhall was perhaps the one person who was extremely close to Stevie from 1966 to 1990 as a friend, musician, songwriter and vocal influence. Doyle also went through substance abuse recovery and was important to Stevie in that regard. During Stevie's teenage years, and perhaps longer, I believe he was closer to Doyle than to Jimmie. I will always be grateful for the kindness Big Doyle showed me. Among those others who helped me learn the most about Stevie and his career were Janna Lapidus, Alex Hodges, Jack Chase, Melody Wilson and the dozens of musicians who played with Stevie from the 1960's until 1990. Chris, Tommy and Reese were very cooperative with interviews and personal photographs. But perhaps the most important ally and friend for 17 years was Stevie's mother, Martha Vaughan. Without her friendship and understanding of my research, collecting and activities, perhaps none of this would have happened – the newsletters, the research, the books, the website, the museum-quality collection of artifacts and the countless friendships that have been made through the fan club.

Are there any memories from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble which you’d like to share with us?

I have shared absolutely everything that is relevant to an understanding of Stevie's life and career in the book, Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night. It is available through www.StevieRay.com. There are less than 100 copies remaining of the limited edition signed by the author. I have sent a few to Greece, but not many!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I have seen 37 members of the Blues Hall of Fame in concert during the past 35+ years. I miss the many artists who are no longer performing, and I miss the local blues clubs that used to bring them to my area. As for the future, I merely hope for future generations to see live music in the clubs and appreciate the skill of the past masters. My fear is that there will continue to be a homogenization of music and a lack of instrumental virtuosity. What I see on popular television shows in the USA largely all sounds the same to me. I cannot distinguish country from rock music anymore except the twang in the vocal delivery, and young people seem not to care about instrumental virtuosity. I also fear the decline of musical education in our schools in the USA.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of SRV with the old cats of Texas blues and continue to nowadays?

Stevie Ray Vaughan was a seminal artist in at least four distinct ways, affecting the future of four groups of people: The popularity of blues music has been cyclical. SRV came along when the blues was in a trough and brought the music to a new audience. Many music fans have told me that they first heard Stevie opening for some other major artist – The Who, Huey Lewis, Grateful Dead, Dire Straits, Jeff Beck, Moody Blues, Bryan Adams, The Clash – not bands you would automatically associate with blues, and they came away a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan's music – the blues. So he was seminal in one respect by moving the popularity of blues music from a trough to a peak among music fans.

This renewed popularity reopened doors for older blues musicians. Stevie influenced some older artists to return to the stage, including W.C. Clark who Stevie directly coaxed from an auto mechanic job back to the stage.

Stevie obviously influenced all the following generations of blues guitarists – John Mayer, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Chris Duarte, Corey Stevens, Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys, Colin James, Gary Clark Jr. Listen to today's new blues artists and you'll hear Stevie's riffs and attempts to get his tone.

Equally important, Stevie was seminal in making it "cool" to be clean and sober. His good friend Bonnie Raitt and his brother Jimmie Vaughan are among those who have said that Stevie's example was seminal in their own recoveries.  Countless fans – just ordinary people -- have written and emailed me over the past 22 years saying they owe their sobriety to Stevie's example. Countless lives have been positively affected by Stevie's trailblazing public encouragement regarding the benefits of a clean life.

So there are four ways Stevie Ray Vaughan was a seminal artist, positively affecting future events with music fans, both the older and all future blues musicians, and with ordinary people recovering from substance abuse.

"Stevie's music was a combination of all the genres he heard as a boy – blues, rock and roll, country and western, jazz, etc. He learned from the masters, particularly the blues greats, to play with passion and strength with every note, every song." (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble in the studio with John Hammond, 1983 / Photo © by Don Hunstein/Sony Music Archives)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life and history?

Stevie's music has enough variety to elicit many different emotions. I was heavily impacted by seeing him perform, particularly in 1984 and 1990, the attendance at his funeral, and the friendships with people close to Stevie –particularly Martha Vaughan, Janna Lapidus, Doyle Bramhall and Double Trouble. There are a number of things in the book that made me laugh or touched me. I believe there is something important on each of the 438 pages of the book.

What is the impact of Blues and Stevie Ray Vaughan music to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Stevie was accepted as an equal by many of the blues masters – Albert King, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy and many, many others. He was recognized by the Blues Foundation as the first white blues entertainer of the year and the second white member of the Blues Hall of Fame. Stevie is widely regarded as bringing the blues to a new audience in the USA, but one must not overlook the importance of the British blues artists of the 1960's and 1970's. Many of those bands were marketed as rock bands, however. Stevie was among the most vocal about being a blues man. Stevie stated that he wanted "to take color out of the blues."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would go to 1966 and find a way to see The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Howlin' Wolf perform.

Photo © by Don Hunstein/Sony Music Archives

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