Jimmie Vaughan paid an emotional tribute to his younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of 35, at Saturday’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Where Vaughan’s speech lauded his brother’s human qualities, a ferocious performance (which featured John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. playing alongside him and his late brother’s just-inducted backing band Double Trouble) nodded to Stevie’s reputation as a six-string icon. Afterwards, the older Vaughan spoke with Rolling Stone about his brother’s gentle personality and competitive spirit.
How did you prepare yourself mentally for tonight?
It really helped me trying to think about what I was going to say, and I kept going back to thinking what Stevie would be feeling and what he would like me to say for him. And I was thinking about my mom and father, who aren’t here. I’m the only one left out of our family. So all those things were running through.
When you were up there you said it was important to talk about Stevie Ray the person. Why was it important to talk about that aspect of his life?
Because most people know he was an incredible guitar player and a great musician and a singer and he wrote songs and he was a great performer. Everybody knows all that, which is absolutely amazing. But what they may not know is that he was a sweet guy and he would do anything for you, and that was just the way he always was. One time we all went to Australia and they had a big press conference, so Stevie goes out there first and we’re all kind of standing back here. Stevie goes out there and sits down and the lights are blinking, and he starts talking about how we need to love one another and how we need to stop doing all this fighting. And we’re all standing back here going, “Hey!”
He would always do stuff you just wouldn’t be ready for. And it was sweet. His sweetness would come out. He gave, like, a 15-minute talk about love to these guys. And they’re all like, “Well, what do you think about guitars?” And he’s like, “I think we need to love one another.” He wasn’t quoting scripture or anything, but we wouldn’t have been surprised!
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What’s one of your strongest memories of your brother?
Oh, there are so many. He could just play so much harder than everybody. He became a Hendrix fan when we were really little kids. If he was trying to beat you onstage, if he couldn’t beat you he would pull out Albert King licks and Jimi Hendrix licks, and then usually people would just give up.
What’s been the highlight of this week for you going through rehearsals?
Well, just seeing all the guys [in Double Trouble] and getting to play all those songs and getting to go through the museum. We saw T-Bone Walker and Chuck Berry, and we saw all the great musicians we all love: Jimi Hendrix and Maybelle Carter – we saw her guitar – and the Staple Singers and on and on and on. I brought my little girls, my little twins. I brought them up here, and they love the Everly Brothers, and they saw that.
What really stood out for you tonight?
Gosh, you know, it’s one of those deals where you won’t know for a couple of weeks what to even say because your shield is up and you’re trying not to fall down and you’re trying to say the right thing. Then you get home and you’re like, “Man, I just played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” I’m just proud for him. I can see my mother and father excited for this. It’s validation in a lot of ways, but we would have kept playing anyway.
Were you more comfortable strapping on the guitar than standing at the microphone giving a speech?
I thought about holding my guitar when I was trying to talk, but then I thought, “Well, that wouldn’t look right. You’re not supposed to do that.”