'They came from nowhere and went everywhere': Vaughan brothers movie to play at the Paramount

Jimmie Vaughan plays guitar in a scene from the music documentary, "Brothers in Blues."
Jimmie Vaughan plays guitar in a scene from the music documentary, "Brothers in Blues."
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Austin will never let the guitar greatness of Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan slip from memory.

Although the brothers grew up and cut their musical teeth in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, they made Austin home for much of their adult careers and lives.

To many who resided here during the 1970s and '80s, the music of their acts — primarily the Fabulous Thunderbirds (Jimmie) and Double Trouble (Stevie Ray) — provided an essential soundtrack for the city's laid-back lifestyle.

More:Tales of the City: Thank you, Stevie Ray Vaughan, for bringing me to Austin

Sadly, many Austinites can remember where they were in 1990 the day after Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a nighttime helicopter crash after an outdoor concert in Wisconsin. Even those who have arrived here since that tragedy can identify his iconic statue on Lady Bird Lake.

Much has been written about Stevie Ray Vaughan in subsequent years, but rarely with the active cooperation of his brother.

Now those memories will flood back, as "Brothers in Blues: Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan," a feature length documentary — written, produced, narrated and directed by Kirby F. Warnock and featuring an extensive interview with Jimmie Vaughan — will make its Austin premiere March 22 at the Paramount Theatre.

It will also be released this week for streaming on several platforms.

More:Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble shine in sweet Rock Hall moment

How the documentary came about

Warnock, who lives on a West Texas ranch, spent 37 years in the blue-collar Oak Cliff neighborhood, where he first encountered the Vaughan brothers in 1977.

His documentary, which runs about 145 minutes, is authorized by the Vaughan estate, and is blessed by the active participation of Jimmie Vaughan, who appears throughout the movie.

"I was inspired to do this because of all the books and films I saw, none of them had Jimmie's input," Warnock says, "and I felt that was important, because he knew Stevie better than anyone. I had a sense of urgency because everyone who knew this story intimately was getting older and I felt a race against time."

Although it includes cool historical photos and video clips — as well as telling interviews with Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton and Jackson Browne, as well as other musicians and music industry types, like key producer Nile Rogers — this is a no-frills documentary.

More:Gone 20 years, Stevie Ray Vaughan stands forever tall in Austin

It is about the close brothers, their searing music and their unforgettable times. It does not attempt to draw larger conclusions.

Clearly Warnock, like many Austinites, remains in awe of the Vaughan brothers' magic.

Lou Ann Barton, who once shared an act with Stevie Ray, summed up their improbable careers in the blues: "They came from nowhere and went everywhere."

"Brothers in Blues" is a music documentary about JImmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"Brothers in Blues" is a music documentary about JImmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

How the Vaughans learned to play guitar

Warnock knows the distinct culture of Oak Cliff and its post-World War II tract homes, parks and schools that produced musicians such as Michael Martin Murphey and T-Bone Walker, actress and dancer Yvonne Craig, and writer Terry Southern.

He paints a minute picture of the Vaughan family and the precocious, competitive brothers. In their early teens, they were playing sock hops, churches, country clubs and nightclubs.

Dallas was full of live music, although it was not generally recognized on the coasts, or even in Memphis or Nashville, where the recording industry clustered.

Clubs lined the Trinity River where blues and hillbilly sounds flourished. KLIF, a Top 40 radio station with a vast broadcasting reach across the state, kept the kids current with rock, R&B and other cultural trends.

More:Remember music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan in new Bullock Museum exhibit

Outside informal YMCA classes, however, boys like the Vaughans would not have found the kind of musical training available to youngsters today. They learned by trial and error, by listening religiously to recordings or live shows, or by picking up licks from their friends.

Jimmie's father encouraged him by buying him better guitars. Stevie Ray followed everything his idolized brother did and practiced furiously to compete with him. Both parents drove the boys to gigs.

How the Vaughan brothers developed their own styles

At age 14, Jimmie joined the Chessmen, the hottest band in Dallas, which opened for Jimmie Hendrix in that city.

He got to know the Houston scene as well, where he hung out with Billy Gibbons, who played with the Moving Sidewalks, but soon took off nationally as part of ZZ Top.

Before long — the movie is not always exact about ages or dates — Jimmie was making $300-$350 a week

"That was big money in mid-60s," Jimmie says in the movie. "More than my dad made. ... All I had to do is play guitar."

So he took off from home and landed his own apartment, which made the Vaughan parents clamp down harder on younger Stevie Ray.

More:Jimmie Vaughan talks the joy of the blues

At 14, Stevie Ray joined the band Cast of Thousands as a bassist, but switched to guitar once the other guys heard him play it.

The brothers picked up different styles: Jimmie more stripped down, so that every note counted, Stevie Ray showier and blisteringly dexterous.

Their output exemplified what was called "Texas roadhouse blues." The brothers, first Jimmie then Stevie Ray, took their music from Dallas to Austin, which was cheaper, more tolerant and already musically fertile.

Stevie Ray Vaughan performs at the Centrum November 8, 1989.
Stevie Ray Vaughan performs at the Centrum November 8, 1989.

Classic Austin in the 1970s

Rome Inn, Antone's, One Knite Lounge — classic clubs of the late '70s — make essential appearances in the movie. Here the brothers established regular blues nights for their own bands, while they opened for — or sat in with — the blues greats.

More:Jimmie Vaughan and Joe Ely named Texas State Musicians for 2015 and 2016

Social scenes grew up around their regular appearances. Both brothers fell into alcohol and drugs, but Stevie Ray took it further than his brother. He was directed to a sober life by Eric Clapton after Vaughan collapsed during a European tour. Jimmie followed his brother's example a few years later.

Meanwhile, Jimmie had his breakout album with "Girls Go Wild," and Stevie Ray with "Texas Flood." Jimmie collaborated with Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray with David Bowie, after the superstar saw him play at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

The movie records many more ups and downs, but you get the picture. It is a clear-eyed, respectful and enlightening documentary.

Seeing the movie

"Brothers in Blues" makes it Austin premiere at 8 p.m., March 22 (doors at 7 p.m.), at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave. Afterward, Jimmie Vaughan will participate in a Q&A. $20. tickets.austintheatre.org.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: 'Brothers in Blues' documents lives of Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan