Favourite Albums

Favourite Albums: Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

Back in college, my best friend Chris and I made a short crime comedy film for his Film Studies class entitled Good Company. The premise was simple: Two gangsters accidentally kill a man while robbing a betting shop, and have to hide the body. For some reason, Chris’ character (Dirk, the name gratuitously stolen from Mark Wahlberg’s character in Boogie Nights) had a New York accent, and mine (Clarence, the name gratuitously stolen from Christian Slater’s character in True Romance) had a Scouse accent. Why, neither of us were really sure—we wanted to challenge ourselves with our characters, and challenge ourselves we did, because my Scouse accent was diabolical and his New York accent not much better.

We filmed over the course of two days, with one scene set in my garage, which at that time was empty and contained a sofa which my brother had inserted some years earlier. In the scene, Clarence narrates a story about Dirk in which he deflowers a young woman behind a nightclub in Andorra, gets covered in her vaginal blood, and then walks back into the club covered in her claret. The scene became famous in our college as the ‘Andorran Alleyway Virgin’ story, made all the more potent because it was based on a true story one of my friends had told me. (We recounted his story almost verbatim in the script.) I distinctly remember sitting in my kitchen, each with a beer, huddled around my laptop, laughing raucously to ourselves as we wrote that particular scene.

Chris received nearly full marks for the short film which, although it was terrible, was technically rather good, containing some nice cinematography, a solid, comical script, and some reasonably good editing, made all the more impressive that our first cut was lost due to the temperamental nature of my laptop, meaning that he handed in a day late and we spent an entire afternoon, a whole evening and most of the early hours of the morning reediting the blasted thing. The only thing on which we were called out was our use of the n-word in aforementioned ‘Andorran Alleyway Virgin’ scene, used only because we were trying to recreate the auditory aesthetic of such writers as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, with their gritty, perpetually witty dialogue. Apparently, the audience of his classmates and several teachers were rather taken aback by the use of such a virulent word in a college project. Nonetheless, Chris was happy that he did well, and it’s safe to say that the week we spent filming, editing and endlessly rewatching the finished product was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life to date.

Chris and I talk of Good Company often, and we once even made an attempt to film it again, with a better script, better acting, more characters and a generally more believable storyline. (The project never came to fruition.) Sometimes we talk about filming it again, half-jokingly. For the second version, we even had the audacity to create our own cigarette packet, humorously called SphekCol Cigarettes, the name taken from a musical collective I once tried to create with some of my musical and artistic friends. (The music we made was rubbish, and the collective never really saw the light of day, though one of the last bands to join has recently been signed to a very small London label. Kudos to them.) We included shots of the films we were trying to recreate, including the driving while under the influence scene from Pulp Fiction and the opening lines of Jason Statham a.k.a. Bacon in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But what was perhaps most important to the film, and what was certainly most important to me, was the soundtrack.

Picture the scene. It’s a freezing cold January afternoon. Snow covers the tarmac. Cut from black to a still shot of Dirk and Clarence struggling up an icy hill. A red Ford Fiesta sits, half in frame, to the right. The words Good Company sit obnoxiously in the middle of the screen in blood-red and in a Western-style font which would make Robert Rodriguez proud. And as an eighteen-year-old gangster, Dirk, yells ‘Ain’t got the shoes for this’ from off screen, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Texas Flood’ fades in.

Forever in my mind, Texas Flood will remain the album of Good Company. Every time that cracking snare opens ‘Texas Flood’ and Vaughan’s guitar comes howling into life, I am taken back to that atrociously cold afternoon just round the corner from my house, taken back to Chris’ cumbersome camera sitting precariously on top of my borrowed-from-a-friend-and-never-returned tripod, taken back to how much fun we had making that film. And then, after bending his strings so far one is uncertain how he hasn’t bent them off the fretboard itself, Vaughan begins to sing, or howl like his guitar does, with that husky Southern twang.

We used ‘Texas Flood’ for our intro, and we also used it in the end credits, which ran ostentatiously through directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, and we revelled in the fact that the two names which kept popping up, in perfect time to Chris Layton’s drums, were ours, and ours alone. Every time I finish watching Good Company, I wait in anticipation for the final line (‘How we gonna talk our way outta this one?’) because I know that moments later ‘Texas Flood’ is going to fade in, and every time a wave of excitement, nostalgia, sadness, ecstasy, washes over me.

‘Pride and Joy’ is another particular favourite of ours, and another song which we used in the film. My friend Jake once learned to play the introduction to this belter of a song, and I remember being in complete awe and total admiration. Vaughan had a way of playing the guitar which was, to me, unparalleled by any other guitarist, living or dead; he had the ability to make a single sustained note tear at your heart and put a fire in your gut. One note, bent to infinity, screeching at you, telling you a whole world of things, making you feel a whole world of emotions—how did he do it?

The rest of the album very nearly stands up to how good these two tracks are. I find that, almost weekly, my favourite song on this album changes. Sometimes it’s the alternate version of ‘Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)’, with its slow, creeping jazziness; sometimes it’s ‘Lenny’, a song which Chris and I once thought a worse version of ‘Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)’ but which we soon realised was a fantastic, gliding song in its own right; sometimes it’s ‘Dirty Pool’, with those poignant opening lyrics (‘True love is gone/I’ve been played for a fool’) and preposterously quick strumming. For a while, after we realised that a live version of it was being played in From Dusk Till Dawn just as they enter the Titty Twister, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ was our favourite. But always I come back to ‘Texas Flood’.

This might be one of those quotes which is incorrectly attributed, or more likely completely made up, but it is said that Eric Clapton once said ‘You can sit on the end of your bed practising for thirty years before throwing down your guitar in frustration in the knowledge that you’ll never be as good as Stevie Ray Vaughan.’ (Or words to that effect.) Vaughan started playing and listening to blues music at a young age, and his historical love for it was apparent in his music. He had the soul that blues music so desperately requires; he had the feel for it.

As I write, ‘Lenny’ begins, and I regret again how much Chris and I used to ridicule it. The track preceding this, though, is one deserving of ridicule: ‘I’m Cryin’’. I distinctly remember sitting in Chris’ van (he worked as a window fitter for a while before university) and singing the lyrics to ‘Pride and Joy’ boisterously over the top. When one listens to both of them, one realises that they are essentially the same song in terms of music. The same twelve bar blues structure, and Vaughan even seems to recycle some of the same licks he used in ‘Pride and Joy’. It is my second least favourite, after ‘Love Struck Baby’, which I frequently skip.

This brings me to another, more literary problem: which tense to use when referring to Vaughan, to his songs, to his music, due to his untimely death. How different things would be had Clapton boarded that helicopter rather than Vaughan; how the face of music would be different today; how different it would be if I could see him play, even in middle age, with Double Trouble, see him shred through the whole of Texas Flood. Often, while sitting and ruminating, I feel deeply sad that I will never get to see Stevie Ray Vaughan play live.

While Texas Flood is my favourite of Vaughan’s albums, there are other albums which contain songs I love on an intensely personal level. From Soul to Soul, ‘Ain’t Gone ‘N’ Give up on Love’, ‘Life Without You’ and ‘Come On, Pt. 3’ stand out prominently as absolutely superb songs. The first, a soaring song which Chris and I used in another film we made (though I’ll be damned if I can remember which), nearly brings me to tears every time I listen. The same is true of ‘Life Without You’, especially when Vaughan actually sings the eponymous line; I remember listening the first time and wishing he would growl like normal, only realising after many listens that he was trying to do something else with his voice, trying to change his music, something laudable (I do wish they wouldn’t fade out the solo at the end, though); and ‘Come On, Pt. 3’, which contains one of the best guitar solos in all of rock. From In Step, ‘Crossfire’, which incidentally my friend Jake and I picked as a name for our heavy rock power-duo (we wanted to be like The Black Keys, but heavier); ‘Tightrope’; ‘Leave My Girl Alone’, the first song I really loved from In Step; and finally ‘Riviera Paradise’, which to me is the ‘Lenny’ of In Step. From Couldn’t Stand the Weather, my least favourite SRV album, the one standout track is, alongside ‘Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)’, ‘The Things (That) I Used To Do’. We used it in a film Chris and I edited together about the month I spent in Brazil in 2015, and it served as the perfect song to conclude what had been an extremely emotional and enlightening trip. From In Session, the album recorded live with Albert King, ‘Blues at Sunrise’ stands out as a firm example of Vaughan playing a classic blues song, but adding his own distinct sound to it. There are countless examples of SRV songs which mean so much to me, each in their own way, each getting me through tough times and reminding me of the good ones—to do it justice, I would have to go through each song on every album. (Perhaps a project for the future.)

But of all his albums, of all his brilliant songs, Texas Flood and the eponymous song on it is by far his best, and not necessarily because it has the best solo (although it does) or because it has the best howling, lovelorn lyrics (although it does) or even because it sounds the nicest (although it does). No, the reason that ‘Texas Flood’ is quite possibly my favourite song of all time, is because of the memories which it brings back to me of those cold few days filming, editing and rewatching a rubbish twelve-minute gangster film in the suburbs of Surrey with my best friend.

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