THE COMPLETE EPIC RECORDINGS COLLECTION
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble (Epic/ Sony Legacy) *****+
Here is a budget priced box set of nearly everything SRV recorded for Epic between 1983 and his untimely death in a helicopter crash in 1990, and beyond. Even with 4 studio albums and a live record, the label found enough material for 10 sets here, with a couple of those being double disc sets- I’ve been in blues heaven for the past week!
The CERC consists of the 4 studio albums released during Stevie Ray’s lifetime, Live Alive, two live radio broadcasts, two sets from the Montreux Jazz & Blues Festival, Live At Carnegie Hall, and a 2 disc set called Archives, full of spine tingling rarities that includes B-sides, bonus tracks from expanded editions, and all 10 cuts from the posthumous release The Sky Is Crying. Though it doesn’t contain every note he recorded or played (In Session with Albert Collins and Live In Tokyo being exceptions) it’s near enough to the full story.
As with most budget box sets ($48.12 at amazon.ca, I checked), Epic keeps it simple here- each album in a cardboard slip cover, there’s a booklet that includes photos, an essay by the online managing editor of Guitar World, and the notes on each album that you’d usually find inside a standard CD. All of this is in a simple cardboard flip case, about the size of a standard CD case, but 2-3 inches wide- Stevie on the front, thumbnail photos of all the album covers contained within on the back.
IN THE BEGINNING
This was recorded April 1st, 1980 at The Steamboat in Austin, Texas and broadcast live over KLBJ-FM, two years before the band’s debut studio album Texas Flood was released. Initially issued in 1992, it’s an incendiary set performed before an enthused and possibly intoxicated crowd. Jackie Newhouse was on bass so it’s pre-Tommy Shannon. A tasty mix of covers (Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Freddie King) and SRV originals, it is notable for an early performance of the classic Love Struck Baby.
LIVE AT MONTREUX 1982 & 1985
Two different performances on two discs here, two completely different set lists. As much as I enjoy their studio sets the band was simply explosive on stage. The hot spots on these discs are where the band really stretches out on tracks like Texas Flood, Dirty Pool, Tin Pan Alley and Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). It’s interesting that Stevie would choose to cover Hendrix tracks like that and Little Wing- though they were both very different players they were both bluesmen through and through. Also, on occasion particularly on the live stuff, some of Vaughan’s phrasing is positively Hendrixian. My favorite tracks on this include those already mentioned, plus a killer version of Buddy Guy’s Mary Had A Little Lamb.
Released June 13th 1983, this is the band’s studio debut. Recorded in 2 days at Jackson Brown’s studio in LA, Flood is a studio representation of what their live set was at the time. Tommy Shannon was on bass by this point, and several of these tracks like Love Struck Baby, Pride & Joy and Mary had A Little Lamb would remain staples of their live set throughout their career. The album ends with an instrumental named after Stevie’s wife, Lenny, and the album itself is dedicated to Stevie’s parents.
A LEGEND IN THE MAKING- LIVE AT THE EL MOCAMBO
This was recorded July 20th 1983, and this box set is the first time I’ve heard this- the cover even says “for radio broadcast- not for sale”… until now, I guess! The El Mocambo is also the Toronto club where April Wine and The Rolling Stones laid down live records in the 80’s as well. Many of the same songs from their live set as mentioned for In The Beginning are here too, but the centerpiece of this gig is clearly the raw performance of Little Wing/ Third Stone From The Sun, proving that the only thing better than Stevie Ray playing a Hendrix song is for him to play two of them.
COULDN’T STAND THE WEATHER
I’ve had this album for awhile, and I even have the expanded edition, yet it wasn’t until previewing this box set that I put together that Steve Vai based his posthumous SRV tribute Jiboom on the song Scuttlebuttin’, which opens this album. Weather is half originals and half originals, many of them songs that had already been in the band’s live set for awhile. The version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) here is almost as smokin’ as the live take heard elsewhere, and my favorite SRV song of all time is here too, Cold Shot. Back in the mid 90’s a bass playing buddy of mine (Warren Holoboff) and I (on drums) auditioned for a band in Nelson BC, and this is the song they tried us out on- the groove was truly sublime as we played it for nearly 35 minutes.
LIVE AT CARNAGIE HALL
This was recorded October 4th 1984 and, as befitting a tres chi-chi gig like this, the band was augmented by several other players including Stevie’s brother Jimmie (his inspiration to begin playing guitar at age 7), Dr. John on keyboards and the Roomful of Blues horn section. It was a good gig but, for me, the horns make it sound a little too uptown. I prefer SRV & Double Trouble live as a greasy trio, when they’re going balls-out with no place to hide, the really raw stuff. A good show, but I like the live sets elsewhere in this box set better.
SOUL TO SOUL
This is the band’s 3rd studio album, released in September of 1985, making it only to #34 on the Billboard charts. Reese Wynans was added on keyboards here, but despite the expanded sound it was the group’s first record that failed to reach platinum in Canada or multi-platinum in the U.S. Soul To Soul may not be as hard hitting as the previous albums, but it ends with a stunning blues ballad that is worth the price of admission alone, the SRV penned Life Without You. This is the first time I’ve listened to the full album and while I prefer the others, this one is just fine, thank you very much.
Perhaps following the Kiss formula (but probably not), SRV & Double trouble released their first live record after 3 studio albums, summing up their career to date. As much as I dig the studio stuff, I’ve always liked the band more on stage. You can really hear them leaning into it, the energy exchange between audience and performers, and I’ve always like hearing the songs as living, breathing things. Only 5 of these 14 cuts are originals, the rest being covers. This record contains a killer version of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and the extended take on Life Without You is enough to make you weep.
This was Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s final studio record, released about a year before the helicopter crash that took SRV’s life. It is also my favorite of their studio sets, kicking off with the rousing The House Is Rockin’ before settling into an undeniable blues groove. The 1-2 double shot of Willie Dixon’s Let Me Love You Baby and Buddy Guy’s ballad Leave My Girl Alone in the middle of the record is unbeatable, but when you add tracks like Crossfire and Wall of Denial the sum is a truly great album- not a bad way to go out. Not a single turkey or filler cut in these 10, not a one.
To those of us that have only owned the original releases, this two disc set proves to be the most interesting, and likely the one to be studied closest- at least that’s how it is for me. Archives contains bonus tracks from expanded editions and B-sides, along with all 10 cuts that appeared on the first posthumous release The Sky Is Crying and as a result, some of these are tracks I’m hearing for the first time. These aren’t the big hits that most of us are familiar with, but songs like The Sky Is Crying and the best version of Little Wing outside of Jimi Hendrix himself are certainly tracks most everyone knows. I enjoy each of the other 9 sets in this box quite a bit but for sheer listening enjoyment, variety and sense of discovery, I’d peg Archives as the most interesting of the bunch.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s The Complete Epic Recordings Collection is an extremely reasonably priced way to fill in the holes of your SRV collection, and perhaps pass along your original copies of these albums to your kids as I am doing with mine. This box set will nestle quite comfortably amongst the expanded deluxe versions of some of these records I won’t be giving to the kids. When it comes to playing the blues from your guts and laying it all on the line nobody’s ever done it better than this,