By Darryl Smyers, Special Contributor
With slicked back, grey hair and retro-debonair fashion sense, Jimmie Vaughan looked the part of a '50s rocker Friday night at the Kessler Theater. Playing in front of a (really) packed house, Vaughan treated the crowd to a selection of originals and cover tunes that harkened back to the golden age of rock 'n' roll, back to a time when the term itself was barely in use.
Beginning with "Comin' and Goin'," Vaughan and his crack Tilt-a-Whirl Band fused blues, R&B and traditional rock with an ease that was inspiring. The rhythm section locked on groove after groove while the two-man horn section hit the marks all evening. Vaughan himself seemed, at times, more comfortable as a master of ceremonies than a frontman.
Although he is a respectable singer, Vaughan shines best when playing those tasteful guitar solos and leading his players into rhythmic nirvana. Singing seems to take him away from what he does best. Even when it's obvious that Vaughan has an affinity for songs like Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never" or Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's "Dirty Work," it's his playing and arranging that carries the day. Of course, choosing great songs to cover certainly doesn't hurt.
Cover choices all night were revelatory. By the time vocalist Lou Ann Barton joined the festivities midway through the evening, Vaughan and band had already served up a hearty dose of classic jump blues such as Roscoe Gordon's "Just a Little Bit." But Barton's blustery vocals on Slim Harpo's classic "Scratch My Back" took the musical history lesson to another level. With Barton taking over lead vocal duties, Vaughan was free to solo without restraint.
Jimmie Vaughan's style is so dramatically different from that of his legendary brother that it is unfair to compare the two. While Stevie Ray Vaughan channeled Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton into his inspired mix of rock and blues, Jimmie Vaughan has remained content to stay the course, to revel in all that is great about classic R&B, to walk the path forged by others, but to do so in a way the is both respectful and resourceful.
Jimmie Vaughan's original songs were just as effective as his cover choices at the Kessler. Vaughan's material is based on the need for connecting with an audience in a way that goes beyond riff or phrase or disposable lyric. Those in attendance Friday night knew it was more than that. It was about a feeling. It was about music from a half a century ago and newer tunes designed for that retro vibe.
Jimmie Vaughan remains timeless. And once again he brought it all back home.
Darryl Smyers is a Dallas writer.