On Thanksgiving night 1979, families all across Westerly gathered around the dinner table as they had many years before and would for many years to come. On this night, however, dedicated music fans excused themselves from the table and made their way down to the Knickerbocker where they congregated in the Cascade Room to hear a classic show by a local band, Roomful of Blues.
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While ‘Roomful,’ as they are known to passionate fans, have been a mainstay of the blues scene for over four decades, their opening act that night would go on to be known as one of the most talented and influential guitarists of his era, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
An ad placed in the Westerly Sun days before the show listed the opening act that night as “Double Trouble” (interestingly claiming they were from ‘Austen,’ Texas). After their leader achieved a degree of fame, the band came to be known as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, reflecting the guitar virtuoso’s crowd drawing power. Double Trouble opened their set with “True Love is Gone,” a hard-hitting blues number which showcased Stevie’s talent from the very first note.
Midway through the set, the band jammed through “The Sky is Crying,” a blues standard that would become a posthumous hit for Vaughan in 1991. Joining Double Trouble on stage was singer Lou Ann Barton, who later that night quit Double Trouble and joined up with Roomful of Blues. The show was released by Dandelion Records in 1998 as part of the set “We Are Double Trouble!” serving as evidence of the show’s quality and importance.
After that Thanksgiving night, Stevie Ray Vaughan spent the next four years returning to play the Knickerbocker several times while building up a reputation as one of the best blues guitarists around. Then, in 1983, Stevie received his big break.
After playing the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980, he met David Bowie, who later called him in to play on his album Let’s Dance, catapulting Vaughan into the spotlight. Vaughan’s stock continued to rise throughout the 1980’s until his untimely death in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990.
He was remembered fondly by titans of the blues scene, including B.B. King who said “Stevie Ray Vaughan was like one of my children. The loss is a great loss for blues music and all fans of music around the world. He was just beginning to be appreciated and develop his potential.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s performances in Westerly serve as a reminder that on any given night, at any given venue, whether it be the Knickerbocker, Perks and Corks, or Paddy’s, it is possible that you could be seeing a star on the rise.