Hard to believe now, but there was a stretch in the MTV mid-80s when two blues-playing brothers from Dallas were all over the radio, the TV and even tucked into movie soundtracks.
Jimmie Vaughan was the older sibling, the first to dive into Texas music scene — at 14 — out of school and making a living playing guitar shortly thereafter. Stevie Ray Vaughan was his competitive younger brother, an incendiary player who decorated a Bowie hit, reinvented a Stevie Wonder classic and climbed to the status of King of Guitar Gods before dying in a helicopter crash in 1990.
“Brothers in Blues” is a documentary attempt to chart their careers, get at their influences and at least take a stab at recreating their lives and the world they came from and how it shaped them.
It’s OK for what it is, but what it is somewhat less than it should be — slapdash, piecemeal, incomplete. For starters, it’s a re-working/re-issue of writer-director and (apparently) narrator Kirby Warnock‘s film “From Nowhere: The Story of the Vaughan Brothers” from 2019.
Warnock’s also done a video doc about the history of the Dallas music scene, “When Dallas Rocked,” so he knows his subject matter well. Not well enough to narrate his own movie and not bother to identify himself on film or in the credits or explain his connection, as narrator, to the brothers. He just expects us to accept his “authority.” Or maybe he just forgot to give himself a credit.
But Warnock, a fixture in the Dallas and Texas music journalism scene who knew the Vaughans before they were famous, does a good job of recreating the world they grew up in, another Rock History that begins, in essence, on Feb. 9, 1964. That’s when The Beatles hit “The Ed Sullivan Show” and took America by storm.
The first funny bit is Jimmie remembering how the rules for “getting a girl” changed with that appearance. Thanks to Ringo, who “wasn’t good looking,” a Texas lad had a chance of landing a girlfriend without playing football. Sure, Jimmie went out for the team, but making his first-ever catch led to his first-ever tackle and his first busted collarbone.
Dad bought him a guitar to master while he recuperated.
“Millions” of guitars were sold and thousands of bands began, Warnock remembers, dozens of ensembles in Dallas, including the first to let too-young-to-drive Jimmie Vaughan up their game with his axe. Warnock talks to survivors of that scene and brings up scores of long-lost clubs and honky tonks.
Warnock takes pains to set the “pre Internet,” pre-MTV context, when having a band and trying to make it big from Texas was damned near impossible. It was, Warnock narrates, like “living on an island, a very big island.”
Influences are cited — Freddy King, The Night Caps, T-Bone Walker. And bonds forged. Billy Gibbons over in Houston crossed paths with Jimmie before Billy formed ZZ Top and Jimmie moved to Austin and formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
But coming up behind Jimmie was this little boy who’d cry when big brother went out gigging, and who vowed — the legend goes — to follow him and eventually surpass him.
One day, somebody’d go up to blues legend Albert King and suggest he let this kid not yet old enough to grow a soul patch sit in with him and his band.
Needless to say, little Stevie Ray did NOT suck.
Stevie Ray knocked at stardom’s door, and befriended Jackson Browne, who invited the guitarist and Double Trouble, his band, to record in his studio, only to have them take him up on it over Thanksgiving. A star was (finally) born.
The film captures recent events in the siblings’ hometown honoring their legacy — a museum exhibit and a park statue near the house where they grew up.
But it has no archival interviews with Stevie Ray. Jimmie’s longtime bandmate, singer and songwriter Kim Wilson, is nowhere to be found. Very little of their music is sampled, always a hang-up with music docs.
There’s a cute bit with character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (“Groundhog Day”), who was in a Dallas band with Stevie Ray circa 1970. But that’s recycled from “When Dallas Rocked.” And the cleverest piece of film craft is interviewing Jimmie as he drives his three-on-the-tree 1940 Ford flathead hot rod.
Truthfully, the best one can say for this is that it’s footage that will be better served when it’s put to use in a better financed, music rights-included and more thorough film about these two guitar heroes who grew up under the same roof.
Cast: Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Connie Trent, Nile Rodgers, Billy Gibbons and Jackson Browne.
Credits: Scripted, directed and (apparently) narrated by Kirby Warnock. A Freestyle Media release.
Running time: 1:46
It’s such a shame that brilliant artists like SRV were around before smartphones and so little video exists. I saw him live five times in California, sometimes with the T-birds, others with Bonnie Raitt or BB King, and I can’t remember much of it anymore. But, I can hear him whenever I want and reconnect with his greatness. I love the fact that my beautiful daughter shares his birthday too. I miss him dearly but am so thankful to have shared time in his presence. Here’s to hoping for a proper video tribute (dare I say movie?) that is worthy of his legacy sometime soon.
Most documentary reviews haven’t drawn the readership that this one has. That’s a sign that SOMEbody with the cash and the backing and musical savvy should do a version of this with archival Stevie interviews, more of his music in live performance and sampling a lot of this footage interviewing folks who knew him. The movie does Jimmy justice, and the “Brothers” hook is a good one. But it was all I could do to not describe this as “half-assed,” which it is.