Cover Story for August 31, 2007
Subject – Stevie Ray Vaughan – Real Deal: Greatest Hits, Volume 1 – a 2006 release on Epic Legacy Recordings, with Cover Photography by Robert M. Knight.
The story of Dallas, TX born and bred guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan is legendary – a story of an incredibly gifted musician’s life of inspiration, discovery, fame, addiction, recovery and redemption, and then an untimely death. Like Hendrix before him, guitarists all over the world watched in amazement as the axe-master from Texas channeled the spirits of the blues and rock’n’roll to develop a blazing style of playing that was all his own.
A 1982 performance of his band Double Trouble at the Montreaux Festival caught the eye of David Bowie, who asked Stevie Ray to play on his new album Let’s Dance. This was quickly followed by a record deal with Epic and the release of the band’s first album, the chart-busting Texas Flood. That record was followed up by a quick succession of others (Couldn’t Stand the Weather and Soul to Soul), along with the band’s embarking on a relentless tour schedule. This continued until 1987, when Vaughan’s drug and alcohol use caught up with him and he checked himself into rehab.
After this much-needed break, the band continued to tour (although at a slower pace) and then released their most-successful album – the Grammy-winning In Step – in 1989. In the spring of 1990, Stevie Ray and his brother Jimmie (of Fabuous Thunderbirds fame) recorded an album (Family Style) which was scheduled for release in the fall of the year. Then on August 26, 1990, after the band played an Alpine Valley, WI show (which featured a “guitar superstar” encore jam of “Sweet Home Chicago” played with brother Jimmie, bluesman Robert Cray, and SRV’s guitar idols Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton) on a warmly-received American tour, the 35-year-old Vaughan boarded a helicopter headed for Chicago. Minutes later, the helicopter crashed and killed Vaughan and 4 other passengers.
In 2006, after a string of posthumously-released recordings, Sony’s Legacy division put out a remastered and updated 16-track retrospective of SRV music titled Real Deal: Greatest Hits - Vol. 1 and went to well-known SRV photographer and friend Robert M. Knight to find just the right image to grace the cover. Robert was the only photographer on hand that night in Wisconsin and took the last photos of SRV in performance and prior to his boarding the helicopter. Reaching back into his archives also brought back a flood of memories – some happy and life-affirming; others quite painful – when he chose an image for this package from another concert in 1990 where he’d caught SRV “in the light”. Robert recounts some of the details of his relationship with Stevie Ray, the photos he took of him that fateful night, and more in today’s edition of “Cover Stories”…
In the words of the photographer, Robert M. Knight (interviewed August 2007) –
“There was a point that night that Stevie wanted me to come back to Chicago with him to go see Buddy Guy play. I did not like the idea of flying at night in helicopters as they do not have any sort of radar, so I didn’t go.
A guest in the hotel room I was staying in had set the alarm clock to turn on a news station, and the next morning I awoke at 9AM with the news about the crash. Soon my phone started to ring with calls from magazines that wanted my photos from the night before to illustrate their stories. However, Stevie was my friend and I could not bear to have my images of him used alongside of photos of a helicopter crash. I sat on them for two years before I let them be used.
As for this particular shot, I had just come off working with Sony/Epic on the re-release of Jeff Beck’s 1969 album Beck Ola, where the label had used about 12 of my shots done in 1968 for that package. When we finished the project, Sony asked who else I might have in my archives as they were working on many re-releases of classic albums. About 80% of my album projects have been when the labels are looking for good shots that have already been done. Once they see what’s in your archive, they call back over and over for other projects.
I had been working with Stevie Ray since 1989, when I photographed many dates on the Stevie Ray/Jeff Beck tour. I also shot several magazine covers during pre-production at Prince’s Paisley Park in Minneapolis and got to know Stevie very well.
This image of Stevie on stage in Minneapolis was one that had been fooled with early on using a process I developed in the late 60’s using "Kodalith" film in special chemicals that prevent the silver halide from linking together - giving the illusion of blackness - but the dark areas are actually made up of the actual grain of the film.
I only got to know Stevie when he was sober. A lot of time, he would come into Los Angeles, give me a call and we'd just hang out and talk. Stevie basically died of drugs and alcohol 6 years earlier in Switzerland and after rehab he became sober and came back to life and was walking, I feel, “in the light”. Whenever I photographed him, I tended to get shots of Stevie in “The Light”.
Over the years, I have done many album projects with Jeff Beck, Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker and have also done many dozens of magazine covers with every one in rock and roll. Currently, we are in production of a major documentary on my life and work by producer Tim Kaiser (Will and Grace/Seinfeld) and will cover a lot of the Stevie story as part of the project. I’d seen a true ‘guitar legend’ in Stevie, so it was great to have this image of him on the cover of this ‘Greatest Hits’ record – he was my friend and ‘the real deal’.”
Editor’s note – After his death, then Texas governor Ann Richards declared his birthday - October 3rd - as “Stevie Ray Vaughan Day” in Texas and there’s been a fund-raising concert (for the SRV Memorial Scholarship Fund) each year in Central Texas to commemorate this date. http://www.srvrideandconcert.org/
The city of Austin also commissioned and unveiled a statue of SRV (which is now a popular tourist attraction that stands in Lady Bird Lake park) and Fender Guitar has issued 2 different commemorative (and hot-selling) models of his best-known guitar – his beat up ’59 Stratocaster known as “Number One”.
Later this year, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of SRV & Double Trouble’s debut at Montreaux, Epic will be releasing a newly-remastered re-issue of the 1990 DVD package titled Pride and Joy that, according to the label, “has been updated, upgraded (to new Stereo and 5.1 surround-sound mixes), and expanded to more than twice its original length. The new DVD edition of Pride and Joy reprises the original eight segments, and now adds a bonus promo video clip (“Little Wing”), three acoustic numbers from the original MTV “Unplugged” series, two television commercials, and performances with Stevie Ray’s older brother Jimmie in the Vaughan Brothers (along with the EPK created for that band). The new 17-track DVD will arrive in stores November 6th on Epic/Legacy, a division of SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT."
About the photographer, Robert M. Knight –
Raised in Hawaii, and now based on the West Coast, Robert is a long time advertising photographer who also specializes in the Rock’n’Roll music industry. His career spans from 1968 to the present. Constantly working in the music industry for international record companies, publications and musical equipment manufacturers, Robert is best known for his “Guitar Legend” archive, having worked with such “classic” artists as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton and such contemporary artists as John Mayer, Steve Vai, and Maroon 5. His limited-edition prints are represented by the prestigious Limelight Agency (www.limelightagency.com).
Robert is also part of Guitar Center’s "Hollywood RockWalk" team, working alongside RockWalk director Dave Weiderman. Robert and partner Maryanne Bilham have an exhibition of 10-foot-tall photos on the outside of the more than 200 Guitar Centers around America., making it one of the largest outdoor gallery shows of original photographic art.
Robert has published several books, including 50 Rock Guitarists (1995 Shinko Music) and Hollywood’s RockWalk – The First Decade (1996) and was part of the 1996 book Led Zeppelin – The Photographers. His most-recent venture is an artistic collaboration called “RockMachine” – an entity that produces fine art and design for the rock culture.
In July, the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas honored Robert and guitarist Slash by dedicating a case of memorabilia on the main casino floor, which was then followed by a dinner party for 50 rock celebrities and friends at Kerry SIMONS restaurant. Billy Morrison (The Cult, Camp Freddy) jetted in as host DJ. The party continued at Body English with a audio/visual retrospective of Robert’s career as a top rock photographer.
To view Robert’s archives and purchase prints of his best-known images, please visit -www.nikonrocker.com
All images Copyright 1990 & 2007 Robert M. Knight www.nikonrocker.com
Portions of text Copyright 2004 Robert M. Knight
All other text Copyright 2007 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery - All rights reserved.