Tag Archives: Stevie Ray Vaughan

A Cold Shot

Cold Shot

Allow me to got back to my past where I was simply a teenager, just met a blonde woman who would one day turn my world on its ear, and was an aspiring guitarist.

In 1989 and 1990 I had just learned to play the guitar and had bought a used 1985 Fender Stratocaster.  It was tobacco sunburst, the color a dark, almost black stain going to red then yellow with the wood grain showing.  I had joined a band after playing only a year and thought I was the cat’s pajamas.

Here’s my first band, Drastic Measures:

DM

Yeah, I know, ignore the bad hair and uplifted collar.

The salesman at Schmitt Music Center in Omaha sold the virtues of the Stratocaster, talking about the “Lynyrd Skynyrd tone” and all that.  He didn’t have to try that awful hard, I already knew about a Strat.  I wanted one early on because Eric Clapton played one.  By this point, though, I had seen the guy in the video up there playing a beat-to-hell, dragged behind the bumper of a car looking Stratocaster.  Stevie Ray Vaughan.  This evening, right before heading to bed, the internet alerts started pinging with the musician’s official page letting me know that Friday would have been his 60th birthday.

If you’re not a musician, you may very well not get the point of this post, but I’ll try to get it to you.

I certainly, at that time, idolized Eric Clapton.  The reality was, though, that I never really thought I’d get to play with or meet the man.  It just seemed too far off, too high on a pedestal for me to reach there.  Yet, as much as I loved the songs, the playing and the style the Clapton utilized, I felt even more when I heard Vaughan play.  He seemed to channel a varying stream of blues greats and reform their own styles into a raucous, flambouyant, never-ending stream of notes coming out of his guitar.

In this era, the late 1980’s, when hair bands like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake were reaching the ebb of their peak this seemingly dead genre, blues and blues-rock, came rocketing back into mainstream because this guy with the boots and the black hat and shitty-looking guitar just wouldn’t be ignored.  He didn’t scream, he didn’t yell, he didn’t partake in theatrics, he just wailed on the guitar.  He beat it into submission, imposing his will on the instrument not so much by beating on it – though he did plenty of that – but by caressing the stream of ideas that flowed like a river out of him.

I know, flowery words and praise for a guy playing the guitar.  Understand, though, that I was hit like a shockwave when I first heard him.  As a result, I bought that guitar . . .

So when he died in 1990, just when I was starting to play on stage, my breath was taken away.  I couldn’t go to class.  Those crazy stories of people weeping because the Beatles broke up made sense.

Clapton was God . . . people said so on the walls of the London Underground.

But if he was God . . . who cared?!  Vaughan was Hercules.  He cared nothing for gods, he was paving his own way.  He would walk onto a stage with Buddy Guy, BB King, Clapton, tour with Jeff Beck, and just wanted to play.  That, to me, was the mindset I felt.  I didn’t want to meet these people or even idolize them.  I went to concerts and my fingers ached because all I wanted to do was go up there and play the music with them.

Whether you knew of SRV or not, he paved the way for music to change.  In an era when music was all synthesizers and pop ballads and hair metal . . . this guy walked in with a Stratocaster, playing blues and Hendrix and jazz and caring little for what people thought of genres or styles . . . and gave us musical whiplash from the speed and grace he gave us.

Having dealt with drugs and alcohol he’d cleaned up his act . . . and was even more on fire than than before.  Just when he preached that he was living on borrowed time . . . he was gone.

I was hurt because I wanted to meet this man, play with him, share a stage – even if it was just a living room or porch – and share in the love of the music he adored.  I ended up with a Vaughan model Strat, the closest I ever will get to him . . . but it’s close enough for now.

I came to the conclusion years ago that, like Hendrix, I’ll never play like Stevie, and that’s okay.  The lesson I learned, hearing pieces of the three kings, Clapton, Beck and Hendrix and Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker in his solos . . . you shouldn’t try to imitate.  You should play.  Just play what you feel, what you hear.

My kids see that when I play and they know his material.  They can hear just a couple notes and know it’s him because his playing is just so striking.

Losing Stevie Ray was a Cold Shot, to use one of his songs . . . but live on he does.

Because he just couldn’t be ignored.

Recording this week
Recording this week

The More Things Change . . .

The place our story begins . . . our new home.

“Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

This should have been a restful, productive and ordinary, average weekend.  I planned it that way.  I was finally at a point where I was able to breathe almost normally, getting over the pneumonia that has plagued me for the last couple weeks.  I was able to get the clean clothes put away, the laundry half-finished, the beds made, dressers and upstairs dusted. . . even my middle daughter contributed.  She was going through her clothes, folding others, and actually did the dishes, the one chore that is hers and hers alone.

But things just sneak up on me without rhyme or reason.  Sometimes there’s a full-fledged cause.  I can see a photo or hear a song or smell a food that hearkens back to the twenty-odd years I spent with my wife.  I also understand that we’re surrounded by those as well.  I have our family photos on the wall.  I have the house decorated with items and materials that we bought throughout our marriage.  I don’t really have a choice, these are the things that we did.  When more than half your life is spent in the company of one person, merged, an entity unto yourselves, it’s hard to split from that.

That’s the hard part, too.  During our eighteen years of marriage we changed.  Not for the worse, not away from each other, but things changed.  In our old, tiny house on 50th Street in Omaha we had green checkerboards stenciled as a border in the middle portion of the kitchen wall.  We had curtains with soup can patterns on them.  It was sunny, happy, small, cramped and just plain cute.  It matched our tiny family.  By the time we moved to Texas, we had a bigger house, three bedrooms.  Our kitchen had a toile (probably spelled that wrong, but I’m a guy after all) wallpaper and fleur de lis patterns.  Andrea developed a thing for chickens.  I don’t know why, she just did.  Our bedroom had a blue paint but our bathroom a minty green.  She had leopard spots on things, why I don’t know.  She’d gotten into the whole “Southern Living” thing.  We just had changed.

When we moved to California, we brought most that stuff with us.  The chickens stayed, the dark wallpaper and such didn’t.  Part of that, of course, was my insistence that there was no way in hell I was ever hanging wallpaper again.  Part of it because we had a huge house.  Andrea was working full-time.  We had all the photos taken by our friends “Photographer in the Family” in Texas hanging up.  There was a yellow paint to give brightness to the house.

Now I live in a house that has a mish-mashed combination of all those things.  When we decorated and I wanted to get settled, I didn’t know where to start.  I went from having a second income that was a pharmacist’s paycheck to being the sole breadwinner having to rely on Social Security to pay some of the bills.  I kept some of the leopard spots (though not many).  The pictures are hanging up.  I put that saying – the one this blog is named after: “Home, the place your story begins” on the wall.  I put the chickens up.  I have the cookbooks between the bookends in the kitchen.  I have the lamp that was almost broken.

But I had to change some things.  My kids were freaked out a little that I put all my guitars out in different rooms.  My wife didn’t like me having them out, but I decided then and there if I was going to change, this was one.  Music was going to be here, part of this, part of our lives, whether the kids or the world liked it or not.  She wasn’t around any more and I needed this to stay sane, playing guitar through the night when I couldn’t sleep calmed me.

So our home is a combination of styles and situations.  It’s not eclectic, it all matches, but there’s no one theme.  It’s all of them.  My goal was to make the kids comfortable, not have them wonder why it all went away.  Their Mom was gone, I didn’t want them to think I wanted to erase her.  I didn’t want to.  I wanted to keep her around and wished beyond all hope that she’d stayed.  I couldn’t bring her back so I kept what I had of her here.

But this weekend, without seeing a photo, without a smell, without a story, something hit me hard.  It hit my middle daughter, Hannah, too.  This morning, when I normally would be sleeping in, taking the opportunity to actually get a full 8 hours sleep for once, I was up at 6am, my mind racing.  I had Andrea on my mind.  The song I wrote for her, the project I want to do when we hit a year, the fact I want to leave town in March…all of it started rushing through my head in a matter of minutes.  I tossed, turned, even fell asleep for a little bit, and dreamed about Andrea.

That hit me hard.  I can honestly say, since the day she passed away, I couldn’t remember any dreams that I had with her in them.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wake up nearly every morning with my brain, my body, all the muscles in my chest reach for the other side of the bed.  You have to understand, even when Andrea and I had our differences.  The nights we had our arguments, the mornings where we didn’t want to face the world, when we hit the financial wall, I would wake up in the morning and reach over to put my arm around her and pull her to me.  It didn’t matter if she was in flannel pajamas, a piece of sexy lingerie or nothing at all.  She could have been in a t-shirt and jeans having fallen asleep exhausted and I would reach over, each morning, and hold her for whatever time I could afford.  I’d kiss her on the shoulder blade, squeeze her tight, and cover her to keep her warm before starting my day.

Andrea – an intimate moment that makes me miss her…

I woke up this morning reaching for her and cursing myself for not realizing the bed is empty.  You can say it’s natural, it’s to be expected.  I get angry because I realize it and it’s like my body awakens thinking I’ve just dreamed the last eleven months when in reality I was just finally, blissfully, asleep and oblivious and my body awakened to it’s normal form only to realize there’s a new “normal”.

Hannah felt it, too.  My middle child, the tomboy of the house, just went to bed.  I came down from tucking in her brothers, the twin terrors, who had no problem this day, it seems.  But as I came down I saw Hannah on the couch, her face to the cushions, seemingly asleep.

“If you’re sleeping, you should just go up to bed,” I told her.  But she turned and her face was wet.
“I miss Mom…”
I should have been far more sympathetic.  I hate how I handled it.  I should have just hugged her, stroked her hair, kissed her forehead, but I had dishes to do, laundry to finish, the lunches to make, the trip to her Aunt’s house for the Monday off these three little ones have . . . and I looked at her feeling such sorrow as well.
“It’s OK, Hannah.  I miss her, too, a lot.  But she wouldn’t want you to just stop everything because you miss her, would she?”
“no.”
“She loves you still, Hannah, just because she isn’t here doesn’t mean she stopped loving you.  She loved you more than anything in the whole world.”

So I kissed her, tickled her, gave her a hard time about her scraggly, rat-nest filled hair, then sent her to shower.

She seemed fine with the ordeal, just needing to know it’s OK.  But I sit here now, wishing I’d told her my day was this way as well.  I wanted so badly to tell her that I know what she’s saying, but I also felt like she needs to know it’s OK.  That we have to move forward a little bit.  The house, the music, the routine, even the change in the foods we eat…all of it as a result of our loss.  I put her to bed, hugged her, and made her smile, laughing, and enjoying her night’s routine.

And that’s when it hit me.  Not everything is horrible because she’s gone.  Sometimes, whether I want to believe it or not, there are things that turned out better moving out on our own.  The house we’re in, the guitars within reach, the music we sing, the stereo we listen to every dinner, the fire pit we use in the back yard . . . and the healthier, expanded palette for our dinners.  None of these would have existed if their mother was still here.

I love the new things we do.  I enjoy the new dishes I cook and the different house we rent – a house Andrea wouldn’t have liked near as much as we do, I don’t think.

I enjoy these things, and that’s what hits me hardest.  When you spent so much time on one path…reading one story.  It’s not easy to admit that you can have that again, knowing full well you’re doing it without them by your side.

Wax on . . . wax off . . .

This morning I was taking three of the kids to school and had to break the tension.  They’d been at each others’ throats all morning, fighting, hitting, yelling, just making everyone crazy.  I looked at Hannah, the middle daughter, and told her something was wrong with her nose.

“What do you mean?”

In my best Mr. Miyagi face, I reached over, slowly hovering my hand in front of her nose and squeezed it, saying: “honk”.

“See, you really need to get that fixed.”

“What the heck?!”

“You need to get that fixed, it could really lead to problems.”

I squeezed it again, giving her an ahooga noise like an old car and told her it’s getting worse.

Hannah busted out laughing, as did the boys in the back.  Hannah shouting “what is wrong with you?!”

I asked her if it was so strange why was she laughing?  “I don’t know!!!”

This was the only thing I could think of to do to calm them down.  I’ve been here before.  I’ve been in this very situation, threatening them, yelling at them, only to get the note or phone call later in the day that states I have to keep my kid’s behavior in check.  Usually it’s Noah.  Sometimes it’s Hannah.  Sam . . . well, he just needs to toughen up a little.  His is usually an injury report because he got hit with a dodgeball or basketball and cried.  The kid’s built like a 1930’s professional wrestler but has the constitution of a marshmallow!

These are the things I have to do.  I need to see the kids laughing again.  I need them to feel comfortable and not go to school with worried feelings and feeling tense, on-edge.  They may have argued before, but their mom always forced them to come over, give her a hug, patted their bottoms and the problems melted away.  They stopped fighting (well, sometimes).  I don’t have that.  I don’t have the aforementioned twinkle in my eyes that hypnotizes you (particularly boys) and gets them to do whatever you want.

I have to go Miyagi on their asses.

I know that they feel this way, they told me so.  Every night we have the same routine: after dinner they get to play, usually not with the TV on, and around 8pm they start the showers.  After that, we have a “midnight snack”, a habit my mother began with them of getting a small bowl of cereal, usually rice crispies with bananas.  They brush their teeth, head to bed and I head up there, if things go on-schedule (not usually the case) and read a chapter out of whichever book we’re reading this week.

This week Noah’s been telling me he’s having problems with a couple kids at school.  In my paranoia I always think they’re getting in fights or arguments, but the way he tells it, they blame him for things, he gets called up to the teacher, it’s found not true but another kid vouches for what the accuser says and it all just sits at a stalemate.  All I can do at this point is tell Noah that his behavior to this point has made others wary of him and teachers ready to believe he’s doing something wrong even if he didn’t.  I told him a couple days ago that, unfortunately, he has to be better than his best.  If anything goes wrong, he’ll get the blame, that’s just the nature of things so far.

Then he just knocked the breath out of me.

“I prayed to Mommy this morning.”
“What, little man?”
“I prayed to Mommy.  I asked her to help me be good.  I wanted her to help me so I could ignore the other kids and just do my school work.”

I don’t think he noticed my eyes getting a little glassy.

“What did you say, Monkey?”
“I just asked her to help me so that I can be good.  For her. ”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know.  They still were mean to me.”

But he didn’t get into trouble.  He kept it together.  I didn’t get any behavior reports, he didn’t get in any fights, it just played out and he let things be.

But I could tell he was hoping for more.  He wanted what he was missing.  He wanted that presence, the warmth that we all felt when she would put her arms around you and say the absolutely perfect thing.  He asked for it, but he didn’t get it, at least he doesn’t think he did.  I don’t think she came down and visited some sort of patience on him, though I ache knowing that it would mean so much to him if she did.  I do think that the shards of her that are left, the little pieces left behind when she was ripped from all of our souls, the fragments that drift around in the wound are there and I hope that’s what he is thinking about.  I hope that he’s remembering what she said and felt.

Andrea had a way of coming up with the perfect solutions.  When we first moved to town, Abbi wanted to do something for the school talent show, but the group she’d joined with to perform couldn’t agree on what they wanted to do and she had her name in and nothing to perform.

“Do something with your Dad,” was Andrea’s answer.
“What?!  Nobody does stuff with their parents at these!”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t.”

I looked at her, and we both figured, why not?  My big thing was I wanted this to be Abbi’s moment, but for years she’d sung along with my music on the radio.  Sang to the point that Andrea, her dad, everyone told her she was too noisy and to knock it off.  But one of her favorites was a fun old Buddy Guy tune, performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  It didn’t even take much rehearsal.  I took my Dobro, an acoustic guitar that has an aluminum cone – like a speaker cone – instead of a sound hole, and headed to the show.

Abbi was nervous, very much so, and I took a chair back behind her so she was able to be out front.  We followed a lot of really talented people and she was just a little freaked out by the fact that her friends had played classical pieces on the piano and complicated magic or juggling and she felt like she was singing a nursery rhyme.  But her Mom told her it would be OK and that she had a bluesy voice and they wouldn’t know what hit them.  When I finished the intro, she belted it out, growling out the song, sassing a little when she called: “tisket . . . tasket, baby.  A green and yellow basket.”  The crowd went crazy, and she had a huge grin painted on her face – again, that twinkle in her eyes.  We did it again the following year, allowing her little sister to sing, too.  That year, Andrea pushing us both – wanting Hannah to sing “Bein’ Green” the Kermit the Frog song.  It may seem a simply, jaunty little tune, but it’s actually filled with more chords than I’ve played before, contorting my fingers to play Kenny Burrell style jazz while she talked about being the color of the leaves.

But we did it, pushed ourselves, strove to be better with the help of their Mom.  With the support and smile of that amazing person.

Noah had the most disappointed look on his face when he finished his sentence that night.  He was crestfallen knowing that he’d reached out to his Mom and had it reinforced that she’s just not there any more.  Not in the physical sense, and I’ve been there where he is.  He wanted to have his Mom reach out from up there somewhere, to feel her presence and get that calm.

The best he gets for now is Mr. Miyagi.

Wax on, wax off.

…Second Guessing Me, Every Minute.

“Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

It is late, insanely late, on Thanksgiving night. I had vowed that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, post tonight, there wasn’t a reason, I’d get through the day, it would be fine, everything OK. But I just hit my same routine. I sit here in my bedroom, a “Friends” marathon seemingly on multiple channels. (Who knew that show was on long enough to have a marathon of just Thanksgiving episodes, by the way?)

My theory had been that if I held Thanksgiving at my house, cooking it, putting everything together, doing the work myself, I wouldn’t have time to think about another holiday coming and going. I wouldn’t have to face yet another signpost flying by me knowing that Andrea has left the path and headed somewhere else.

Wednesday night I headed to Target to pick up some last-minute stuff for our dinner. I had not realized that – even though I’d posted one of those past, amazing Thanksgiving memories on this blog already – the day was already weighing heavily on me. The thing is, and I know I sound like some sort of strange, mutated version of the Cake Boss meeting Martha Stuart, Andrea did the holiday right, and I mean right. Things were decorated, the table set perfectly, the china, the silver, the wine and water goblets, everything in its place and set up just so. I did the cooking, nearly every year, but she was the brain behind it all, even determining the side dishes or the desserts at times – much to my consternation when it was a chocolate-crusted bourbon pecan pie with homemade vanilla whipped cream. Yeah, she had ideas, just ideas well beyond our station. Remember this, because it’s not just important, it’s a part of our everyday lives, something that led to a lot of problems for us as well.

I saw just how little I had to make it the Thanksgiving that Andrea would have done. The table would be decorated, the house feeling like Fall even if we were in the warmest of climates. I wanted nothing more than to channel my wife, the beauty and color, the vision of the world she saw. I found a good tablecloth, the other stuff and as I cooked, up until about 1am Thursday morning, I put the table together, nervous and annoying my oldest daughter because I thought I’d done a piss-poor job of putting the table together.

20111125-161058.jpg
The decorations and table settings for our Thanksgiving

I wanted to create a Thanksgiving that was ours, something that the kids could think wasn’t any different than years past. I also thought that if I made dinner myself, at home, I’d have so much on my plate – pun intended – I’d have no time to think about the fact that I’m doing this all by myself. That Andrea’s not here, so there’s no way the evening can be perfect. I had her parents, which is never comfortable for me, my sister-in-law (who is amazing) and her husband, three kids and all coming over. We had a 21 pound turkey, homemade bread dressing, homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and my sister-in-law brought over green beans and sweet potatoes. By 1am, I was completely exhausted and had made 3 pies and the dressing with the fixings for the turkey made.

The dinner worked well, my food palatable, the company was good and the kids on their best behavior.

But no matter how well I did things, it wasn’t beautiful. It was nice, it was decorated, but it wasn’t perfect. That’s what my wife brought to the table: perfection.

But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always happy with that perfection. Let’s call it what it was, too – an obsession. Andrea had to have straight A’s or she wasn’t happy when she went to Pharmacy school. She had to be able to get the outfits or table linens she wanted or she’d find a way to get them.

Where this was problematic for me was my own fault, my own problem. I couldn’t tell Andrea “no”. My kids can tell you I have no problem saying that to them. I can tell my work if I can’t do something or “no”, I am not able to stay late, what have you. But there was something about Andrea, a thought, a feeling, whatever spell she had over me, I did whatever she wanted or found a way to make it happen if I couldn’t. She was just so amazing to me I couldn’t refuse her. When she wanted to go back to school, regardless of the massive school loans or lack of her income, I delivered newspapers at 2am, worked my day job and gigged to make ends meet, and not very well. With a new baby, a house, all of it, we needed the money but didn’t have it.

On one particular week, I had to work my day job, gigged at a local bar, unloaded my gear, then headed home, showered, went to the warehouse, loaded the car up and delivered newspapers. I got home later that morning, around 6, showered again, ate a bagel or something, drank a ton of coffee, went to my day job, worked until 6pm, got home grabbed my gear, headed to the bar, gigged, finished up and was readying to go to the papers again. My brother was worried and wanted to ride along so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the car – by this point it was hour 32 I was up – and fell asleep in the car as I delivered papers, finishing with more than 20 undelivered in my car, got home, showered, then had to go back to work again. By the time I’d finished it all up, I’d been up nearly 48 straight hours. I started to see people in driveways that weren’t really there.

Was it painfully hard? Difficult to do to the point of burning out my memory synapses and causing me to walk around in a state of near constant exhaustion? Of course. Would I do it again if Andrea was there, wanting to better herself, show she’s not stupid and become a Doctor of Pharmacy again? Yes.

My biggest fault, the one I hated the most was the fact that, even if it was for her or my own good, I couldn’t tell her “no”. The look of disappointment, the drop in her voice, the anger or sadness that might accompany it was so hard for me I had no self control when it came to her. If she wanted to get something, I tried to find a way to get it. If she wanted to go out, no matter how tired I was, I went. If I was exhausted, after delivering papers all night and gigging through to the weekend and she wanted to grab my hand and keep me up so she could lay her head on my shoulder, I’d do it. I never wanted to see her disappointed, but it was the worst thing I could have ever done.

It’s not co-dependence. I didn’t have time apart from Andrea and obsess about what she was doing and wonder when I’d see her again. I missed her, of course, a lot. I didn’t have heart palpitations worrying about when I would finally be in her company again. The reality is I loved her. It’s really that simple.

The song I add to the beginning here is particularly heartfelt. I found myself able to listen to it, though it makes my eyes well up when I hear it. The song makes me emotional, but it doesn’t have that connection to Andrea because she was never a big fan of its writer, Stevie Ray Vaughan. She couldn’t listen to that much guitar and so little vocals. She was a jazz fan but not a blues fan. Whenever I had this song on the radio in the car she never knew it was him because it was such a soulful piece. It speaks of the loss of a dear friend, the description of life with them, then life without them.

He says what happened for me:
A long look in the mirror and we come face to face
Wishin’ all the love we took for granted
Love we have today

Life without you….
All the love you passed my way
The angels have waited for so long….
Now they have their way
Take your place….

Here’s the thing, whether you’re religious or not, I called her my little angel. I felt she was like the woman in the BB King song, my sweet little angel . . . I was sure she’d made me a better man and the angels waiting for her was just such an appropriate line. It hurts to think I had an angel on my shoulder that I could touch and feel, but that’s who she was. I wasn’t ready for her to leave. It’s really true how I feel like the love we had we just took for granted. I hear this and look at the table after we’ve eaten, that song playing on the radio while I cooked earlier.

If she’s a gaseous mist, or up in heaven, on another plane, meeting the souls of the greats, I hope after she found the spirits she missed all these years she stumbled upon a tall man with massive fingers, a black hat perched on his head him why he’s there, this man with a feather standing tall from his black Hendrix-like hat. The gentle, beautiful musician who came through so many hardships only to die too young whose personality and music connected with my soul – I dream he somehow knows how much she meant to me as well. I hope he smiles at her with the Strat slung over his shoulder and tells her:

We’ve been waiting for so long . . . come take your place.

Happy Thanksgiving. Fly on, Andrea, my sweet angel. Fly on through the sky.