Stevie Ray: the One That Got Away

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

One wedding photographer I knew included this phrase in every contract:

“I will miss the ‘shot of the day’.”

Spend enough time behind a camera lens and you know you can never capture every moment on camera. No matter what you do, some of the best moments slip away before you’re ready or after you’ve set the camera down. That phrase in the contract was his proactive protection against the disappointed, post-wedding questions such as, “You mean you didn’t get the a picture of…?”

So let me tell about my One That Got Away:
young Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In the early 80s, Austin ‘s public access group, ACTV, loaned video equipment to trained community producers. I had signed up on a list of volunteer producers wanting to get practice with the cameras and portable VCRs.

“Could you help videotape a benefit show this Sunday?” I didn’t know the person who called me, but agreed to show up that Sunday for a blues benefit for Louis Wheeler, long active behind the Austin music scenes working equipment. The afternoon’s line-up featured several local blues bands, Austin’s two biggest rising stars of the time, Lou Ann Barton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lou Ann’s debut album, Old Enough, was out and Stevie had caught major buzz following appearance at the 1982 Montreaux Jazz Festival.

Sunday afternoon, we got to the bar early and starting setting up. I was mounting the camera on the tripod when someone walked out from the stage area, saying, “Oh, no no no — no, you don’t — put that thing away.”

It seems Karen had so far only secured the okay of the bar manager for us to tape. She figured she’d just ask the musicians for permission to videotape the day of the show.

Wrong — both Lou Ann and Stevie’s people came out to talk to us. Lou Ann’s rep made it quite clear that under no circumstances could we videotape her performance — that would violate her contract. “If there’s even a camera on that tripod,” pointed to the tripod atop the bar at the back, “No — if that tripod is even there, she will not perform. She will not even come out on stage. Period.’

Reluctantly, Karen agreed, but she continued pressed her case to Stevie’s folks. He was hot off his Montreaux appearance, but hadn’t recorded Texas Flood. Bootlegs of the Montreaux show were circulating, so the label was worried about letting any more performances be recorded. Karen kept insisting the idea was to let Louis, the intended beneficiary of the funds, see & hear the show. “Don’t you think Stevie would want Louis see this?” That angle worked, so they relented and agreed to let us tape — but only if we handed the tape off to a responsible 3rd party (W.C. Clark, former bandmate to both Lou Ann and Stevie) to get it to Louis as soon as his set was over.

Which is why I never saw the footage. After taping all day under blues bar conditions (read: dim lighting, mostly red on stage), I already knew the video images were terrible to the point of unwatchable: indistinguishable humans moving about in dark shuffle all afternoon. Sometimes, it was hard to tell what was in the camera viewfinder or monitor.

Finally, Stevie came on, played brilliantly — as always. I videotaped the whole blistering set, knowing the whole time I would never see it. Sure enough, as soon as Stevie said “Thank y’all,” and left the stage, his rep was there by my side, ejecting the videotape and taking it with him.



About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in Austin, Buller, music, musicians, video and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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