March 15, 1984: Radio City, Scotia, NY
with Steve Bassett
Bassett, Vaughan Put Down Blues Roots
by Carlo Wolff
The Schenectady Gazette
March 17, 1984
"Blues was the only game in town Thursday night as two men named Steve parked their southern roots at Radio City, offering a fine bill that packed the Glenville venue with 1,000 people who paid $8 a ticket.
Although Steve Bassett played a far different kind of blues from headliner Stevie Ray Vaughan, both showed affection for and creativity in a traditional form they're doing their very best to revitalize.
Bassett, who often plays keyboards in the Delbert McClinton band, is a 33-year-old soul singer from Richmond, Va., who has just released his winning 'Steve Bassett' album.
When he's not touring, the 29-year-old Vaughan lives in Austin, Texas with his wife. Released last June, his 'Texas Flood' album debut showcased Vaughan's passionate intensity and speed in blazing guitar stylings that whip the blues to a frenzy over the sympathetic drive of bass player Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris 'Whipper' Layton, the Double Trouble rhythm section.
Late Thursday night and early yesterday morning, the two groups offered perfectly complementary sets that proved that the South might well rise again.
Bassett's keyboard-dominated sound, as exemplified in his single 'Only Love Can Mend a Broken Heart,' is easy and swinging, a matter of gentle persuasion backed by quality; even when he tackled Otis Redding's 'Try a Little Tenderness,' Bassett steered clear of the bombast and affection that can mar the recreation of a classic.
Possessed of a casual stage manner and a rich tenor voice, Bassett and his five-piece band (outstanding guitarist Jim Miller, on his first night ever with the Bassett group) didn't blow the headliner off the stage. Instead, and better yet, Bassett paved the way gracefully for the more dynamic, but also narrower, performance of Vaughan.
'The style of music we play, we've always played,' Bassett said in a between-set interview. 'I've been playing for money for 20 years, and the marketplace is beginning to open up to a rhythm and blues sound.'
Originally, r&b was associated with the Memphis of the mid-60s and such artists as Arthur Conley, Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, Bassett said. But when r&b came to mean 'black music, rather than a musical style,' the blanket identification effectively shut white soul singers out of the marketplace and radio, he suggested.
'If you were an r&b musician and you weren't black, you fell into kind of a vacuum,' he said. But the popularity of the Blues Brothers a few years ago, and the subsequent 'rediscovery' of such performers as Aretha Franklin and James Brown, have reopened the field.
'Everything recyles [sic],' said Bassett. 'The '70s seemed to rehash the '50s, and the '80s are recycling the '60s. All the new music from England and Australia is '60s black-rooted.
'I have sung the style of music that I sing since the '60s.'
Although Bassett's 45-minute set encompassed composers as diverse as North Carolina 'Beach Music' legend General Johnson, British pub rocker Mickey Jupp and the Puritan Byrdsian blues of Texan T-Bone Burnett (whose 'I Wish You Could Have Seen Her Dance,' though proficiently performed on stage and disk, seemed out of place: it's in Bassett's repertoire because Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler, who produced Bassett's first national album, felt it would find a niche in the marketplace, he suggested), it was characterized by emotion, an easy mid tempo and a devotional delivery that made it stirring.
Vaughan, meanwhile, came on stage as the first Great White Hope of the guitar since another Texan, Johnny Winter, burst on the scene 15 years ago.
Like Winter, Vaughan doesn't have a great voice, though it's adequate for the primarily instrumental blues he purveys. But his guitar is something else: not only is he fast, he also is possessed by a drive propelling him to know the insides and outsides of his three Fender Stratocasters.
At the end of the set, vamping great washes of sound off a riff from Jimi Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland,' Vaughan did everything but smash his beat-up '59 Stratocaster. He hit the neck with his left hand, he played it with his teeth, he played it backwards, he rubbed the neck on the stage with full volume on. And throughout, he was playing music, even though its shape wasn't always easy to discern.
His tone is sharp, ringing, and his technique demonstrates a command of traditional slide, modern pickups and the dirtiest whammy bar going. It's obvious the man is in love with guitar; the spirit of Jimi Hendrix lives on in him.
But besides that, he's got his own sound: tight, high and undeniable. When he develops melodies and lyrics identifiably his own, he'll be as moving as he is technically impressive. In the meantime, he's playing some of the best guitar around.
Although his set was dominated by material from 'Texas Flood,' and was highlighted by a gut-wrenching version of the beautiful title track, Vaughan and Double Trouble also played several tunes from their upcoming album, 'Couldn't Stand the Weather,' which also will feature Vaughan's brother, Fabulous Thunderbirds leader Jimmie Vaughan ('he's the best guitar player I know'), Thunderbird drummer Fran Christina and Stan Harrison, a sax player who made his mark in the David Bowie 'Serious Moonlight' tour of last year.
The new album will contain Vaughan's hot version of Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile' (an early barn-burner in Vaughan's hour-plus set), a lovely ballad called 'Cold Shot' and a horn-oriented blues named 'Tin Pan Alley.'
'It's real hard to be on the road all the time,' said Vaughan, who's been pushing his music for going on two years, opting to tour with his own band after promises made by Bowie led to that decision last year. (Vaughan's guitar playing lent tartness and weight to Bowie's smash 1983 album, 'Let's Dance.')
'When feelings chance, your sounds change,' said Vaughan. 'I'm giving back what people give to us.'
In an interview in his tour bus, Vaughan said he misses his wife, Lenny, whom he married four and a half years ago. 'She's a wonderful woman,' he said. 'She looks for what's real.'
As for his music, it's real, too, he said. No bubblegum music for Stevie Ray Vaughan, he said: 'I chew it when the occasion comes up.'"
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