"He really was the reason why I started to play, watching him and seeing what could be done,” so said Stevie Ray Vaughan of his big brother, Jimmie. This statement says it all about this legendary guitarist.
Jimmie Lawrence Vaughan was born in March 1951 in Oak Cliff, Texas, on the edge of Dallas. As he himself relates “I was weaned on classic Top 40 radio [which was invented in Dallas], vintage blues, early rock ’n’ roll, and the deepest rhythm and blues and coolest jazz of the day, thanks to the sound of Dallas’s AM radio powerhouse KNOX and border radio stations like XERB, where personalities like the legendary Wolfman Jack sparked a youth revolution. I never got over that stuff, and I never will.”
He started playing when he was 13 when a family friend gave Jimmie a guitar to occupy his time during his recovery from a football injury. That proved to be an epiphany as, from the very moment his fingers touched the strings, he showed a natural talent. As his mother Martha Vaughan remembered, “It was like he played it all his life.”
Just a couple of years later, Jimmie formed his first band, the Swinging Pendulums, and they soon started playing in Dallas clubs several nights a week. In 1969, he joined one of Dallas’s top local bands, the Chessmen, which opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in Fort Worth, Texas. At this show, Vaughan lent Jimi Hendrix his Vox Wah-wah pedal which Hendrix ended up breaking; in return, Hendrix gave Vaughan his own touring Wah-wah pedal. Thanks to this experience that gave him the chance to hear Muddy Waters and Freddie King play, Jimmie turned to blues and formed the band Texas Storm.
In 1974, Jimmie founded the band Fabulous Thunderbirds with singer and harpist Kim Wilson, drummer Mike Buck and bassist Keith Ferguson. The original members of the 'Birds were all protégés of Austin, Texas blues club owner Clifford Antone. Their debut album Girls Go Wild, released in 1979, was characterised by a tough blues sound tempered by 1950s rock ’n’ roll. The 'Birds released other three LPs within 1983 which were ranked among the most important 'white blues' albums, but they did not sell well. It was only with the 1986 Tuff Enuff, the title track single, and followup single “Wrap It Up,” that the Fab Thunderbirds reached success and found a widespread, national audience. The album became a Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard charts.
In 1990, Jimmie left the band to form a duo with his younger brother Stevie Ray. However, this experience was cut short by Stevie Ray's dramatic death in the same year. The duet album Family Style was released a month after the accident. From that moment, Jimmie has played as a solo artist.
Jimmie has played many guitars, but he is associated with his well-travelled, beat-up ’62 Olympic White Strat which has become his trademark instrument. That Stratocaster has been heavily modified with a maple-fretboard neck and plenty of other changes and repairs to keep it alive after all its years on the road. Jimmie's Strat was amplified by a Fender narrow panel tweed Bassman. As Jimmie says, “You can get that sound through a Matchless and several different amps, but it’s really basically all the same amp from my perspective—they all came from a Bassman. I mean there’s always an exception, but for the most part, a Bassman it is. Tell me what’s better than that? I don’t know what is.”