The Day of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Daddy’s Funeral
Millerfest 1987, Jarry Park, Montreal
It was sometime in September 1987, f’ng cold for Montreal for this time of year (ed. – I brought a coat to SRV’s outdoor concert in Jarry Park) and I intended to attend only one of many scheduled shows during the three day Millerfest festival: Stevie Ray Vaughan. Local Montreal Blues legend Frank Marino was opening up. I had seen David Bowie with Peter Frampton on guitar earlier that summer at the Olympic Stadium, with opening acts Duran Duran and Montreal’s Michel Pagliaro but this, I figured, would be the penultimate ending to my annual summer concert tour that year.
A couple of days before the show I had learned from the radio that his dad had passed away and that an interruption to the tour would be expected so he could attend his daddy’s funeral. The day of the funeral was the Montreal show date. I was planning to go to the show with my best friend at the time, my brother-in-law today but I digress, and the next thing you know were were already walking around with tickets in hand. We stayed tuned to Montreal’s rock station CHOM-FM for the latest updates and we were relieved to know that the show would still go on.
On the way to the show we decided to snatch four beers each from my father’s corner convenience store (dépanneur du coin) because we were typical, cash-strapped eighteen-year olds. We get to the gates, got searched and are denied entry because of the bottles on us. So we drank four beers each in about three and a half minutes. Belch! Security laughs at us and lets us in, pointing to the Johnnies on the spot yards away (there were already line ups).
Every time we heard something loud, we identified it as a helicopter and got all jiggedy (ed. – how do I turn off the red line under jiggedy). We knew he’d be late. The radio stations, yes even the local French speaking stations were updating their listeners with hourly bulletins. The show was on!
Meanwhile at Jarry Park, the crowd had long since gathered and now swelled in front of the stage. We found ourselves about three hundred feet from the stage. I couldn’t see shit. My 5’6″ may have permitted me to have a decent view about twelve feet from the stage but now I had to make do with what I could. People were quickly gathering around us and we were quickly gaining a better view from our vantage point in contrast to those arriving only minutes after us. Everybody’s shoulders were touching. Nevertheless, we secured good, hard ground. Albeit not without the routine foot sweeping of your immediate space ensuring no off-edged rocks or sharp twigs break your fall should you pass out from obliterated drinking (ed. – already four beers up and we’ve just arrived – time elapsed four minutes).
We heard a helicopter and so we freaked out like Beatles chick groupies only to realize that it was some type of sound test. Not so bad, the tough, cool looking biker guys looked as erratic. Frank Marino played well and so did Jim Zeller. This was the first time we had heard of and seen Jim Zeller on harmonica. All I can say is wow! These guys seemed to have played past their slotted time by about a half hour. Everything was sounding the same. Like great performers, they realized it was time to get off before the audience hinted it.
Stevie Ray’s Helicopter Lands in Jarry Park
We must have waited another 45 minutes and our heart skipped a beat every time we heard something loud thinking it was Stevie Ray’s helicopter. Stevie Ray was to land it Dorval Airport right from Texas and to board a helicopter then fly right to the venue, probably 10 minutes away. Next thing you know, the lights go off, what ended up being the helicopter, was audibly imperceptible and had landed without anyone in front of the stage really knowing it. Like I said, it was f’ing cold in Montreal for this time of year. Many of us were drinking and finding less ingenious ways of warming up.
I stumbled on a large log that probably rolled under my legs after my safety sweep. Still shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone around me, I couldn’t really look down so I went feeling for it with my foot hoping it wasn’t round so that I could stand on it for the show. I love oblong shapes and I loved this log. Wow I was now six feet tall! I elbowed my bro-in-law and he followed suit. He was on a bigger part of the log, somewhat more of a trunk in fact. I was standing on the tapered end and struggled to keep my balance but the reward was the clear line of sight to the stage.
Stevie Ray appeared on stage and opened with Texas Flood. The most poignant and riveting version you’ve ever heard. Remember readers, this was Stevie Ray appearing right after his daddy’s funeral!
Too Drunk to Enjoy the the Show – Feeling No Pain
Suddenly, the log we were standing on came alive like something out of a fantasy movie. Someone was reaching for my hands from down below. My bro-in-law and I looked at each other in light amazement but major fear. We had been standing on a passed out drunk all along! He was actually reaching to tell us it was ok. He just made one request and that was to my brother-in-law and that was to stop moving so god damned much! He mentioned to him then pointed to me in a gesture that seemingly indicated to Bob to follow my example of staying put, calm, and cool. I even got a smile of approval from the drunk. Anyways, he let us stand on him for a couple of more songs before eventually getting up and staggering away at a permanent forty-five-degree angle.
I don’t remember the rest of the Stevie Ray’s set but I do remember the concert as being eventful. I do remember leaving the show and seeing the drunk by the exit gates still in horizontal position, somewhat in between a lethargic and lucid state, acknowledging us with a grin. The grin highlighted guilt that he didn’t remember a thing of the show. He was too plastered or hammered or whatever you want to call it. I’m left with this memory.
I was first turned me on to Stevie Ray’s music when I was around seventeen at a time when I didn’t care too much for the blues. I was more a Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley type of listener. Little did I know that these were all offspring and offshoots of the blues. Stevie Ray made me hear it. For me, he brought rock and blues together, while at the same time, keeping them separated. He made me realize the similarities between the blues and country. The guitar troubadour made me also appreciate country at a time when I thought only Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, and George Jones existed.
Like B.B. King said, “He’s the man who saved the blues.” Stevie Ray had a great spirit, which he displayed in his anti-apartheid speech dedicated to brotherly love. Stevie Ray became a special role model for me around 1989 when he turned is life around and sobered up. He did so for many others as well. Buddy Guy says, “He’s my best friend”.
What happened to the legendary #1 guitar?
#1 has obviously been retired and legend now surrounds its whereabouts and fate. I heard it was broken in a museum six months after SRV’s death by a fallen girder. I heard it’s in Jimmie’s possession. Imagine what it could fetch at a charitable auction (ed. Blackie got over a million)
Thanks for reading!