SRV by Jonnie Signed, a photo by Jonnie Miles on Flickr. © Jonnie Miles. From a series of photos taken backstage at Colgate University on April 29, 1988.
Photographer Jonnie Miles and I were on a road trip as I recall, and the memory is vivid with me as if it were being replayed on some cosmic movie projector.
I was first introduced to the genius of Stevie Ray Vaughan by the writer Bill Milkowski, who championed the plumed genius from Austin in dispatches for this little old magazine I edited called Guitar World. Once he got signed to Epic Records, the SRV Peanut Gallery was taken over by his indefatigable under assistant promo man, Charlie Comer.
Fast-forward to 1988 and by the gracious auspices of Stevie's road manager Skip Rickert, I was standing in the driveway of the upstate New York college waiting for a tour bus to roll in. I was there to greet the man, have a chat and then basically hang out and watch the concert as Jonnie Miles and Milkowski did the reportage heavy lifting. The privileges of editorship.
I climbed up onto the bus and went inside to shake the man's calloused hand. Stevie was gentle and humble, emanating a spiritual equanimity that was not too far from the vibe I'd felt from encounters with some acidheads I'd known who'd been born again. Except the pre-enlightenment breakfast of this champion had been a cocktail of whiskey and cocaine.
SRV looked through me with a clear-eyed gaze. He was proud to tell me of his sobriety, and that is what we talked about for a few minutes more before he went to soundcheck.
The University's people had set up a sort of craft services table in the cafeteria of the Student Union building for the band and crew. I lined up with the band members with my plastic tray to pick up my plate of meatballs and spaghetti. Just ahead of me was Stevie's bass player, a hulking six-footer named Tommy Shannon. As he approached the student volunteer who was ladling out the comestibles, Tommy had a question: "Does this meat sauce have any alcohol in it?"
Only once he was assured that it did not, did he heap his plate with Italian-style food. Everybody in the band, he told me, was on the wagon with SRV, and that extended to even trace amounts of alcohol in food items.
That night's concert was the last time of many that I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan perform, drunk or sober. Of course, it was perfect.