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Painting Stevie Ray

MARCH 21, 2013

This month, The Blues, a British music magazine, is publishing a major feature on the recording and legacy of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's debut album Texas Flood. Since I did the painting for the album cover, I was contacted last month by the editor, Edward Mitchell. "The cover art is a big part of what makes the album so special," he wrote, and asked if I could supply a few words for a sidebar. When I told him I had done a number of preliminary sketches for the painting, he asked if the magazine could publish them too. My comments were excerpted and are out in the current issue.

Q: How did you come to be involved in producing the cover art for Texas Flood?

A: I answered the phone one day and when they asked me if I’d do an album cover for a new musician, I said sure.

Q: Why did the label choose to commission you rather than use a photographic shot?
A: Artists are probably the last people to know why art directors pick them.


Q: How involved were Stevie, Tommy and Chris in the concept for the cover art?
A: Well, in the initial stage, I wouldn’t really know. Whatever I was told would have been conveyed to me by the art director. At the time, remember, Stevie Ray wasn’t well known outside the Southwest, so I don’t know how much clout he would have had at Columbia Records. On the other hand, he was one of John Hammond’s “discoveries,” so it’s possible he might have had as much say-so as he wanted.

Q: How did the artwork come together?
A: The original idea you can see from the first charcoal sketch I did. I call it the cowpoke picture. They told me Stevie Ray wanted to be portrayed in a western get-up of some kind and somebody – I can't remember who – it might have been Stevie Ray himself  – wanted to show him riding a horse with his guitar slung over his back.

I can’t remember either whose idea it was to have him pushing on through a flood. That might have been mine, because I knew what the album was going to be called. On the other hand, that might have been part of the brief, I just don't recall. In any event, I told the art director that I thought the whole idea was corny and that a more straight-forward painting would be better.

They had given me a crummy Polaroid of Stevie Ray playing his guitar to work from. I did the best I could with that, but you could barely make out his face. So I told them that if they wanted the guy on the cover to look like Stevie Ray, they'd have to fetch him in from Texas and send him down to my studio.

Q: So did you sketch Stevie in situ?
A: Not at first. They said there was no way they were going to pay to fly him in. But the next thing I knew I got a phone call saying he was in town: when could I see him?

A: What was the location?
Q: My loft’s in Soho, which in those days was mostly an industrial district full of rag warehouses. Stevie Ray wasn’t in a very good mood when he got here. I met him downstairs and the first thing he wanted to do was to get some cigarettes. So we walked to a bodega around the corner and got some, then came back and started drinking Jack Daniels. After that, his mood improved and we got down to business.

Q: The Texas Flood cover has become iconic. How do you feel about it 30 years later?
A: I’ve never really thought about it much, there’ve been so many other things to think about. On the other hand, I've never done many album covers – Ray Charles, Billy Joel, a few others. But out of all of them, the afternoon I spent with Stevie Ray stands out in my memory. 

As I said, he seemed kind of gloomy when he got out of the taxi at my loft. But maybe it was just shyness. After the first half hour or so he got rather chatty. He knew all about my art from Playboy and wanted to know what it was like to work with the magazine; or to hear about Hefner and the Playboy mansion. Then he got out a bunch of photographs of himself in concert, in his different costumes, you know: playing his guitar behind his back or over his head, or upside-down. He was a fantastic talent. By the time it began to grow dark outside we had become rather cordial and when I walked out with him to hail a cab that evening, I realized what a special afternoon it had been.
"Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble: The Making of Texas Flood" is out now in The Blues, Issue #5; and is currently on sale. It can be ordered here.
Text © The Blues and/or Brad Holland // Album Cover © Columbia Records/Sony Music
All art © Brad Holland