Pride and Joy

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It’s 1990. I’m 14 years old. I’m sitting in front of the TV waiting for the commercial to finish because my favorite show of all time is coming on. I am about to watch MTV Unplugged. My life is about to change forever.

I’m not telling it right. First I have to give you my pedigree. You don’t know and can’t understand the immensity of what I am about to tell you until you know that I am a music guy.

When I was three for my relatives’ enjoyment I would sing All the Gold in California by the Gatlin Brothers. I had it by heart. I also had Y.M.C.A. and Macho Man in my repertoire. I knew the words to The Black Widow by Alice Cooper, knew every Beatles song. I could perform for you The Devil Went Down to Georgia before I knew who the devil was or where Georgia was located.

Blondie, Supertramp, Meatloaf and Peter, Paul & Mary. I knew Crystal Gayle, Genesis, Billy Joel and Elton John. I remember the moment I saw the music video Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. I sang about a Vegemite sandwich, about Roxanne and Roseanna and I could wail Babe I’m Gonna Leave You with one breath and in the next twang away with I’ll Fly Away.

I knew music. It was the only constant in my life. Mom was a country girl through and through. She loved gospel and she loved soul. She told me once they would never improve on The Temptations no matter how hard they tried. From Diana Ross to Olivia Newton John, my mother loved music. She taught me to dance. She taught me to sing and she taught me there wasn’t much that a good forty-five couldn’t fix.

Dan was a different kind of animal all together. He had Alice Cooper, The Beatles, and Wings. He was sure that Paul McCartney was a close relative to Jesus, and when Micheal Jackson took off, he floated that cloud.

Tom was a new kind of music lover. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Denver, Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Seger. He taught me that country music had one king and would never have another. That man’s name was Hank Williams and there was no higher form than Hank. He brought in Hot Rod Lincoln and Kaw-Liga. He taught me about the Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

With my sister it was Hair Bands. It was Warlock and Fur Immer. It was Once Bitten Twice Shy. When she let me into her room, I had to admit that Bobby Dall was the hottest member of Poison and that all boy bands needed to burn on a pyre of their own records. Loved Van Roth, hated Van Hagar. Nothing was so sweet as Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield video where Pat runs away from home and makes it as a trashy dancer.

I walked alongside Metallica and Megadeth every day. Didn’t care about the feud. I loved Slash and Duff and Axl and vocals would never improve on Axl Rose, but AC/DC was sure trying. Never Unskinny Bopped but would always Give Love a Bad Name.

No rap. No boy bands. But for the most part I had music nailed. It had been with me all my life. Had been a factor, a big factor. When I wanted to “go with” a girl, first I had to know what she listened to. It was my life.

My stepfather had taught me how to play guitar. We played folk, a bit of early rock. We played Cash and Coe and he taught me the basics of guitar and bass. He had a twelve-string acoustic. It was impossible to play. A twelve-string, for those of you who don’t know, is a guitar with two strings where one will do perfectly fine. Each string has a second that is made differently and has a slightly different ring to it. You are playing two guitars at a time when you play a twelve. The strings are so close, so close, so so close together, it is nearly impossible to strike just two at a time. It is a rhythm instrument. By no means should it ever be played as a lead.

Our house was built on the slow simmering flame of discontent. My parents hated my sister. They hated her music, would not even acknowledge it was music. They hated MTV. Hated all that, but when Unplugged came on, the house fell into a gentle rest.

If you don’t know the show, the concept is simple. Take the screaming electric of the guitar and make it acoustic. Take out all the electricity and technology of rock and metal and what you had left was just the music. Not the pedals, not the whine, no echo, no reverb, just pure music. Unplugged was untainted. Unplugged was sacred, and you could finally get all of us to sit down and really watch and really hear music we would have never understood.

It’s 1990. I’m 14 years old. I’m sitting in front of the TV waiting for the commercial to finish because my favorite show of all time is coming on. I am about to watch MTV Unplugged. My life is about to change forever.

My sister doesn’t want to stay after she sees who is playing, and she goes to her room. My stepfather walks away. My mother says it is not her thing, and they leave me alone in a room with a man I have never heard of. They leave me alone in a room with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

His set starts out as nothing too crazy. This is just another guitar guy. Seen one, you have seen them all. The guy knows how to play. He is going to be long-winded about it. I am about to hear one long, beautiful solo. Stevie plays and it does not disappoint. The man knows his guitar, but I grew up on Chet Atkins and Steve Vai. This is nothing new to me. He plays his first guitar solo and I notice he is playing a twelve.

Wait.

He just played an entire guitar solo on a twelve-string guitar. That is not possible. “Did you hear that, Tom?” I yell out.

“Yeah.”

“That was a twelve.”

Tom is back.

“Who the hell is this guy?” I ask.

Tom doesn’t answer.

A very freaky looking host comes out. His hair had many opinions and it was busy expressing all of them. This host asks Stevie what he is going to play next. Stevie says, “Pride and Joy.”

This I find obnoxious and I know I am wrong. Guitarists without bands who just play long, elaborate solos always name their songs exotic names. Their name is never what the song sounds like, and I am wrong about it because they have to give it a name. You can’t have Steve Vai put out a song called 4. This guy says “Pride and Joy” and I roll my eyes.

But it’s a song. Lyrics. Pride and Joy is a beautiful love song. It is obvious this entire audience knows this song. They know every word, because it becomes obvious he has modified the song a bit and they go nuts. This is not a guitar guy playing magnificent twelve-string guitar. This is a full-grown, well-known, guitar god and singing god who in my music-soaked life I have never ever heard of.

“Who is this guy?” I ask Tom.

“Stevie Ray Vaughan. Pretty good, huh.” He turns and walks out.

I’m 14 years old. I’m a Southern Baptist. I am working poor and I have a decent understanding of life and what to expect from it. I can put things into a box. I know what is what, and I know where I am going. I’m going to try to get a factory job or a state job. Something I can work for 20 years. Get my pension. Get a part-time job to fill in the blanks and I’m set. I’m going to marry a girl. I even know her name at that point. Kids. Raise them by Jesus and a leather strap.

This is what life is. This is my future. This is the world. I have it figured out.

Then what the hell is this Stevie Ray Vaughan shit about? How does an entire fully formed musician appear out of nowhere? Where does a man who writes a beautiful song, sings to break your heart, and plays guitar as if he is a god come from?

If Stevie, then what?

If something like Stevie Ray Vaughan is out there, then what else am I missing? Is there a different future possible? Is there more than this? Can I do more than this?

If Stevie, then what?

Stevie taught me there was a bigger world out there than what I was seeing. This performance on this show aired in 1990. Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a plane crash on August 27th later that year. The entire life I live, from fatherhood and husband, to writing and creativity, was all sparked to life by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Because if no Stevie, then what?

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