Miller & Vaughan Celebrate T-Bone Walker at JALC


Steve Miller (left)

(Photo: Lawrence Sumulong)

Steve Miller never seems to age. Joined by his frequent guitar-slinging partner Jimmie Vaughan for a tribute to Texas blues guitar great T-Bone Walker on Dec. 14, he rocked the Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater like a well-shaken cocktail.

Often cited as the founding father of modern electric blues guitar, T-Bone Walker souped-up the blues with an urban edge that remains thoroughly contemporary 40 years after his death. Before selling millions of rock records, Miller garnered his sterling guitar chops at the literal feet of T-Bone Walker at age 9.

Jimme Ray Vaughan

Miller went on to share Chicago stages with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and James Cotton. While he may look older and more deeply lined, the character of his rich voice and resonant guitar playing remains unblemished. When Miller unleashed his big, booming voice on such Walker standards as “You Don’t Love Me” or “Mean Old World,” time and distance disappeared.

Steve Miller & Jimmie Vaughan

For his part, Vaughan brought the legacy of his legendary Texas blues guitar-drenched family, joined by B-3 organist Mike Flanigin, vocalist Brianna Thomas, pianist and music director Shelly Berg, alto saxophonist/clarinetist Patrick Bartley, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy, baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and former Earth Wind & Fire drummer Sonny Emory.

Tribute to T-Bone Walker

The ensemble displayed a skillful professionalism that sometimes bordered on the slick, and the musicians’ consummate ease at spinning blues bumps, shuffles, ballads, and jump material at times recalled a glitzy Las Vegas act where the arrangements are so predictable they leave little space for spontaneity or immediacy.

But this is thankfully where the Miller/Vaughan twin-turbo jet came into its own. Song after song, the band laid down a slick carpet of manicured blues terrain, only to be uplifted by the twin guitarists’ fire. Neither of the guitarists played what could be called a lean Texas style—Miller’s rich sound and illustrious picking is pure California gold, while Vaughan, though a master of Texas blues, is an economical guitarist whose stinging leads and shimmering chords provided a good foil for Miller’s rock star sheen.

Photo by Lawrence Sumulong

Miller consistently created a rich and smoky sound. The combination of his dusky voice and dark-hued guitar picking was like bathing in a river of single-malt scotch. Vaughan responded in kind, his extremely clean, focused and measured guitar work regal in its own way, like a sizzling ember forever burning but never burning out.

Songs were often uncalled and unintroduced, one song rolling into the next without much in the way of identification. Vocalist Thomas brought a serious blues goodness to a rave-up tune that allowed her full command of the stage, with the audience responding vociferously. Pianist Berg was also a tremendous asset, his large stylistic vocabulary and upbeat stage presence at times stealing the thunder from the two stars, front and center.

Tribute to T-Bone Walker Full Band

But the spotlight always returned to Miller and Vaughan. Miller crooned “I can get a woman like you anyplace anywhere” in “You Don’t Love Me,” this lush vocal tone complimenting his snaking, hot-gun guitar solo.

Miller’s sound was consistently peaty, dark and punchy. “Travelin’ On My Mind” provided a good pocket for the guitarists’ single guitar trade-off, followed by “Shufflin’ The Blues,” a hot-blooded ’50s-era soul shuffle that recalled every great Texas blues guitarist from Albert Collins to Johnny Winter. “Plain Old Down Home Blues” came near the evening’s end, the guitarists and the audience a single organism of good-time, feel-good blues freedom. DB

  • McBride__Kahn_copy.jpg

    ​Christian McBride and writer Ashley Kahn meet for a DownBeat Blindfold Test hosted by New York University’s Jazz Studies program.

  • Samara_Joy_%C2%A92023_Mark_Sheldon-4639.jpg

    Samara Joy brought fans to their feet in the middle of her Newport set!

  • 20170912_CeramicDog_EbruYildiz_29-2_copy.jpg

    Ceramic Dog is, from right, Shahzad Ismaily, Ches Smith and Ribot.

  • 23_Sullivan_Fortner_BFT_APA_Indianapolis_copy_2.jpg

    ​“He was the coolest,” Fortner says of Nat “King” Cole. “Didn’t break a sweat.”

  • 23_Houston_Person_by_Eugene_Petrushansky.jpg

    Person’s esthetic took shape in an era when jazz functioned as neighborhood social entertainment and moved with a deep dance groove.

On Sale Now
September 2023
Kris Davis
Look Inside
Print | Digital | iPad