Seeing up-and-coming Stevie Ray Vaughan for the very first time in February 1984 was like a surprise party. What songs would he play?
He had recorded only one studio album so far – the irresistible Texas Flood – but the material from that classic wouldn’t fill a full-length concert.
I had interviewed Stevie Ray a few days earlier for a lengthy feature story in the college newspaper, so I knew that he, his band Double Trouble, and a few special guests had been recording a new album with “some completely different stuff” including songs with “some real quick picking.” That album would eventually become his second studio album, Couldn't Stand The Weather, released in May 1984, three months after this concert.
You probably go to concerts the same way I do, with at least some sense of anticipation. We usually know what songs to expect, and often we have a favorite tune that we can’t wait to hear performed live. But the 100 or so fans who had gathered in a rickety old gymnasium on the University of Chicago campus could not imagine what he would unleash on us.
On a night when we immersed ourselves in his cover of “Voodoo Chile” for the very first time, along with many other new songs, the one that absolutely blew me away was “Scuttle Buttin’.”
That song – experienced live and right in front of the stage – was two minutes of pure sensory assault. First, your eyes and ears couldn’t quite get in synch. Watching the blur of Stevie Ray’s fingers flying over the guitar was like watching an old squeaky VHS video on fast forward, with the video and the soundtrack slightly out of synch. It went so fast you know you must have missed something, but you couldn’t stop it or rewind it. Talk about quick picking!
Then there was the rhythmic pounding of the tight pocket created by Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums, a pleasant yet mesmerizing vortex that sucked you in. The Double Trouble duo was clearly enjoying themselves.
When the song ended as abruptly as it began, it took me a moment to catch my breath, bringing my senses back into alignment, and then re-examine the new reality I had just entered. That rickety old gymnasium was in a building called Ida Noyes Hall. Since the early 1960’s, that building had seen its share of all-time great blues, rock, and folk musicians roaming the halls, from early incarnations of the Butterfield Blues Band, to the upstart Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota, to original Band members Rick Danko and Levon Helm. But none of them presumably played with volume and intensity that could cause structural damage.
Later that summer I played Couldn’t Stand the Weather for my friend Mike, who rushed over to the turntable to check the settings after he listened to the opening notes of “Scuttle Buttin’.” Exclaiming that what he had just heard was not humanly possible, he wanted to know if I had set the album to play at 45 rpms instead of 33.
To this day, “Scuttle Buttin’” remains one of my go-to songs when I need a quick rush of adrenaline.
Frank Luby is co-founder and CEO of BluesBackroadsBaseball LLC and the author of the book Blues Flashbacks: The Legends In Their Own Words. That book includes the entire 1984 interview with Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as some notes from a backstage conversation after the show. Also check out the “Blues Flashbacks” playlist on Spotify!