Review of ‘Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan: Brothers in Blues’

The Blues of Texas are as broad as the state itself. From Blind Lemon Jefferson to Lightning Hopkins to T-Bone Walker to Freddie King, among many, the Blues of the state of Texas continues to have an impact on the music itself and on present & aspiring musicians. Two musicians that absorbed that tradition first hand were the brothers: Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan.

On March 23, 2023, the documentary “Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Brothers in Blues,” premiered at the Texas Theater in Dallas. This film delightfully articulates the importance of the Vaughan Brothers to the Texas music scene and their broader impact on the world at large. Written, Produced and Directed by Texas Writer and Filmmaker, Kirby Warnock. Mr Warnock also narrates the film and he conducts the interviews with such music luminaries as Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons and Nile Rogers. Also interviewed are early bandmates of the Vaughan’s and various friends. As described these were the “people that were in the room when it happened.”

As a writer, Mr Warnock has been involved in such films as “When Dallas Rocked and Border Bandits.” Additionally, Kirby Warnock is a Journalist and Writer for the music magazine, “Buddy.” Originated in 1972 in Dallas, Buddy is still published in Sulfur Springs, Texas.

Kirby Warnock paints in this film, in broad strokes, the story of a post-Beatles America. Where thousands of kids, formed thousands of bands. Some got a guitar and got real good like the Vaughan Brothers.

They were raised in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. The same area that produced diverse individuals like Blues innovator T-Bone Walker and Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. An interesting section of that city to be sure. Both of their parents loved music. Their Mother, Martha, had brothers that played in Country and Western Swing bands and that was an early influence on the Vaughan Brothers. Filmmaker Warnock grew up in Oak Cliff, which is where he first crossed paths with Stevie and Jimmie.

The heart center of this documentary is Jimmie Vaughan. He speaks honestly to the camera. Along the way, he tells some remarkable stories. Like early stories of football injuries and a fifty-dollar guitar given to soothe an injured child. Of course, that injured child was Jimmie and he learned how to rock with that first guitar.

This is primarily a story of two brothers, both of whom became remarkable guitar players. The relationship between Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan was almost like a sage and a disciple. Eventually, both became broad-based contemporaries. But Stevie always deferred to Jimmie as the cooler and wiser older Brother. They became guitar slingers. Like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, except bonded by blood.

The movie is greatly balanced by the narration of Filmmaker, Warnock. His tone and delivery are perfect. A Texan thru and thru. His narration fleshes out the film nicely. He is also the interviewer in this film. He does what great interviewers do; he lets the subject speak for themselves.

Jimmie was the first Brother to make a living off of music. By the time he was 14, he had left the family home and had his own apartment, a professional musician. Their parents kept a tighter grip on Stevie’s comings and goings. But the music won out for Stevie too.

It was when both brothers ended up in Austin that their musical careers began in earnest. In Dallas, both brothers had been influenced by the Blues-Rock playing of such legends as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, Jimmie opened for Jimi Hendrix, as a member of a teenage band The Chessman, at a Dallas show.

It was in Austin that the brother’s early Blues influence took root. As kids, they’d listen to late night Blues radio programs with the transistor radio, barely on, under the pillow. In Austin, they found a musical community structure to support their playing of the Blues. Jimmie was the first in deciding that he was leaving behind the Rock approach to guitar playing and he became a succinct, minimalist Blues player. By the time he was about 17 years old, Stevie joined his brother in Austin. Stevie’s approach to guitar playing was influenced by Bluesmen such as Albert King and by Jimi Hendrix. To put it simply, Jimmie Vaughan could be as flashy as Stevie, but he chose to not play that way.

“Brothers in Blues,” effectively fleshes out this story with remembrances of such clubs as Antone’s and the Rome Inn. Antone’s was crucially important as Clifford Antone regularly presented some of America’s greatest Blues men and women, every week. Antone also offered amazing opportunities to Austin’s younger Blues players like the Vaughans. Clifford Antone would have bands, like Jimmie’s The Fabulous Thunderbirds, or Stevie’s Triple Threat Revue (Eventually called Double Trouble) open for legends like Muddy Waters, among many.

The film details how once Albert King was playing for a week at Antone’s. Clifford told Albert that Stevie Ray Vaughan loved his music and played a lot like him. As a favor to Antone, Albert let Stevie sit in and was amazed. He played with Albert for the rest of the night and that started a lifelong friendship between the two of them.

The community that surrounded Antone’s included other stunning young Austin musicians like Denny Freeman, Angela Strehli and the Sexton Brothers. Antone’s was like a graduate school in Blues. With artists like Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Taylor, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and other Blues legends giving masters courses in the Blues, direct from the Antone’s stage.

Musicians like Sumlin and Otis Rush jammed with Stevie and Jimmie on that stage. One time, Stevie Ray said to Otis Rush, after a lengthy jam session between the two; “Man I could do that all night.” Otis replied, “Not me Stevie, I’m bushed!”

Like Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield, in the 1960’s, and their friendships with the legends of Chicago Blues, the 1970’s friendships that developed on the stages of Austin between the traditional Bluesmen and the new young bloods was as deep, with lasting friendships built upon the music.

This film has a wonderful pace. The editing is superlative. Some of the still photographs used in this film are breathtaking. The interviews with Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton and Nile Rogers are heartfelt and insightful. For me, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan saved Rock and Roll guitar from its attentive excesses in the 1980’s and beyond.  I think the aforementioned interview subjects would agree with that assessment.

The film provides an insight into the success of both Jimmie’s Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie and his band, Double Trouble. With unflinching honesty, the film also deals with the pitfalls of that success. Both of the brothers went to rehab, successfully, for drug and alcohol addiction. In turn, the film builds to a triumphant climax with the details of the success of Stevie’s work, “In Step,” the collaboration between the two brothers that became “Family Style,” and their new approach to life via sobriety.

Jimmie honestly and graciously gives Eric Clapton great credit for steering him and Stevie towards recovery. Clapton, equally gracious, advises the viewer that he needed the “company in recovery.”

Sadly, and inevitably, the film takes a somber turn with Jimmie recalling the last time he saw his brother before Stevie’s tragic helicopter crash on August 27, 1990. The loss of a sibling is quite difficult. Jimmie maintains the legacy of his brother quite well. He pays great attention to the integrity of his brother’s work as it is released.

The film utilizes Jimmie Vaughan as a focal point because Jimmie remains a productive survivor of a great heartbreak. “Brothers in Blues,” is a great film about America’s greatest music, the Blues. This film is also about the success and struggles of two brothers. A great lesson on how to survive fame with some dignity intact. Definitely a must-see film for all fans of the guitar and some of its best players.

Michael Ingmire

Michael Ingmire, is a musician, writer, commentator, activist and author based in North Carolina. As a musician he has shared stages with artists like John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Bo Diddley, Dr. Mac Arnold, Wilson Pickett, Allen Ginsberg, Kenny Neal, Bob Margolin, among many. Michael's work is available for listening or purchase at under Michael Wolf Ingmire. Since the death of his nephew, Sean Smith, in the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, Michael’s writing has taken on a strong political edge. He has previously written about Benghazi extensively for The Daily Caller and Starting in September 2015, Michael has been a consistent contributor to Politichicks, writing about, political, musical, and social topics. His article, “Benghazi: A Tale of Two Reports,” closes out the chapter on Islam in the collection, “Politichicks: A Clarion Call to Political Activism.”

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