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By: Michael D. Vogel
© February 1, 2001. Michael D. Vogel. All Rights Reserved.
The Album Network magazine – April 16, 2001
Totally Adult magazine – Februry 9, 2001
The journey to find one’s self can often be a long and arduous task; the path to acknowledging who you are and what your contribution is can be even harder. Such has been the voyage for drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, collectively known as Double Trouble. Stevie Ray Vaughan once said he was just a member of a band, a band called Double Trouble…and with his death came a void in the act that had revived blues/rock for a whole new generation.
After SRV’s untimely demise this premier rock and blues rhythm section embarked on a musical odyssey that witnessed them working with legends like Eric Clapton and B.B. King, as well as those destined to claim a future piece of the blues/rock throne: Layton and Shannon formed the Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II, as well as the progressive blues/rock sounds of Storyville. In each case, Chris and Tommy took a back seat in the projects, preferring to be seen only as members of the band. But now, with the release of the first album under the Double Trouble moniker, they’re out in front–and joined by a slew of friends who’ve come along to help out on this expedition.
While preparing for their triumphant return to the Austin City Limits stage, I had the opportunity to speak with Chris and Tommy about the new album, SRV and the future of Double Trouble.
What was the impetus behind recording a new Double Trouble album?
Tommy Shannon: “There just came a time when we started having this creative urge. We came up with the music and part of the lyrics for five out of the 10 songs on the record. It just started out as a guitar and a little boom-box, but I guess we got a little carried away.”
Chris Layton: “For years now, we have been doing records with other people. So, we finally decided that it was time to do our own record. By the time of the Arc Angels reunion last summer, we had already cut two of the tracks with Doyle [Bramhall II] in his featured spot. It was after the reunion that we spoke to Charlie [Sexton] about working on this project with us, too.”
Was it a matter of process, getting back to writing a Double Trouble album?
CL: “I think so; it took quite a bit of time before we were ready to do this, even though we had been asked about something like this for quite some time. Although our initial reactions were more like, ‘We probably won’t do that,’ after the Arc Angels and Storyville, it just seemed like the right thing to do. With the breakup of Storyville, we had talked about another Arc Angels album, but it didn’t really seem like it was going to pan out. Since we were already working on this idea, we decided it was time to see if we could realize it.”
Was it an issue of catharsis then, where you had to reach a point of being comfortable using the Double Trouble name again?
CL: “The strange thing is, after Stevie’s death, we really didn’t consider ourselves as Double Trouble anymore. But, no matter where we went or who we played with, people kept referring to us as Double Trouble.”
TS: “It’s like the people gave us that name. So, finally we decided, yeah, we’re Double Trouble.”
Been A Long Time really showcases your songwriting talents. Did you feel it was necessary to come out with your guns blazing?
CL: “Our songwriting really became, not only one of our top priorities, but the actual focus of the record, not just how we play bass and drums.”
TS: “One thing we didn’t want to do was to just bring people in, plugging this person or that person into Double Trouble. But the thing that means so much to us is that we put our heart and souls into it. And now, by putting our songs out there, our proverbial asses are on the line.”
The album title, Been A Long Time, came together in an interesting way. How did a stargazer and an engineer help to figure in the naming of the album?
CL: “We were kicking around all kinds of names, when a friend of ours, Mark Murray, an astrologist here in Austin, suggested the title, Been A Long Time. At the same time our engineer, Stuart Sullivan, also suggested the same title. After that, it seemed that the album title was pretty obvious.”
TS: “And with the first single to be ‘Rock And Roll’ and the first line of the song being, ‘Been a long time since I rock and rolled,’ it was like it was meant to be.”
From the soulful sounds of “Cry Sky” to the poppy “Skyscraper” and the down-and-dirty blues of “She’s Alright,” Been A Long Time showcases your extremely diverse sound. What kind of choices did you go through in order to pick 10 tracks for the album?
TS: “We envisioned a lot of the artists for the particular songs we wrote. But it wasn’t like we told them they had to do a particular song, so if they wanted to do something else they had that option. Fortunately, though, they seemed to like all the songs.”
CL: “We sat around for quite a while, throwing different ideas about. And ultimately, there were quite a lot of other songs that didn’t make it on to the record, either. But the most important part is that everybody chose the track that best suited them. In the long run, we believe in that, simply because that always makes for the best album.”
At times, Double Trouble seems to move through music more like a jazz band than a rock group: spontaneously making music, feeding off each other to make the music flow. With so many guests on the new album, was that possible?
TS: “Yes. You see, we did a lot of improvisation with Stevie, especially on his part. He might decide to go to some totally different chord in the middle of a song, without warning, and would expect you to be there. Since we’ve been playing together for so long, we just knew to pick up on it.
“But that’s interesting that you say that, because we listen to a lot of jazz–from Les Buchanan and Eddie Harris to John Coltrane and Miles Davis to some organ stuff from Jimmy Smith. Stevie and I used to listen to a lot of jazz as well, especially back in the early days. We thought how cool these players were and especially how masterful and world-class they were. To me, in a weird way, there isn’t much difference between jazz and the blues. It’s all about emotion and improvisation. That’s the kind of spirit we try and emulate, of being free and living in the moment. The music has to be very free-form.”
What was it like going into the studio as Double Trouble, without Stevie?
CL: “To record with him was an amazing experience, but to have done a record as Double Trouble immediately after his death would have been a letdown and, in the end, probably wouldn’t have seemed like a Double Trouble record at all. So, the first thing we did after Stevie’s death was to team up with Doyle and Charlie, who are immensely talented, for the Arc Angels record. So, once again, we were in a really good band. Sadly, though, I think we had much more potential than was ever revealed on album or stage. “
TS: “I remember after Stevie’s death, for a while it didn’t matter who I played with; it all just seemed like a big letdown. It’s something I had to deal with myself and accept the fact that Stevie was one of a kind.”
With the release of the SRV box set, which you had a major part in, the two of you had to bring up some old memories. Tommy, I read in the liner notes how you described him as a beautiful spirit. Can you elaborate on that?
TS: “I’ve known Stevie since he was 14 years old, and we started playing together in bands when he was 16. Our first band was called Blackbird and then after that was Krackerjack. But just watching him grow up and the changes he went through–it’s like there’s one thing that never changed and that was this certain sense of humility and sincerity about him. He just had a beautiful spirit and the music was an expression of that. Once you really got to know him, it was no wonder it sounded so good when he played his guitar.”
There are three tracks on the box set that are from the final shows at Alpine Valley, where it’s been said the band was performing at a pinnacle level. Looking back, did anything seem special about those shows?
TS: “Both nights were exceptionally good for us. At that point in our career, we really felt like we were coming together as a band and really looking forward to our next record. We were all clean and sober and working together better than ever; it was just, like, something was about to happen musically for us. We felt like we were on the verge of breaking through to something much better than we’d ever done before. Unfortunately, now we’ll never know.”
CL: “At the time, everyone got clean and sober in Double Trouble and we had been together for so long that it was like one big family. So, it was more like a family crisis that needed to be resolved.”
TS: “When Stevie and I more or less hit rock bottom, it was like the other guys did, too, even though they were addicted like we were. But they were right there supporting us and helping us all along the way.”
Where does Double Trouble go from here?
TS: “We really want to put a band together.”
CL: “That is one of our main objectives in the New Year. This record is already done and will accomplish things on its own whether we do certain things or not–but we realize that the best thing would be to go out and promote it. So our main objective is to put a band together as soon as reasonably possible. We would then do as much material off the album as we realistically could do. It would be the jumping-off point to start a whole new adventure that could lead to a whole new record with an actual band, as opposed to a Tommy Shannon/Chris Layton project.”
Based on the mystique alone, do you think it will be hard to find a guitar player for Double Trouble?
TS: “It’s one of those things were you’ll know when you find them. That will determine so much of what the band will become….”
CL: “We hope that when we find these people, they can look at us and say that they found something, too.”
TS: “What it comes down to is a lot of guitar players feel that if they play with us, then they’re trying to fill Stevie’s shoes and therefore think they’ll be perceived as that–and understandably, not many guitar players want to try and do that.
“We just hope, once people listen to our record, they’ll see we’re not trying to repeat what we had with Stevie. That would be suicide–we know, he’s a hard act to follow. So, for Been A Long Time, we’re hoping to show people we’re coming from a totally different direction.”
CL: “Stevie was a member of Double Trouble, so when he died we thought so did the band. So it would be inconceivable or sacrilege to say that we would just get someone else to continue with the name. We wanted to be fresh and creative and think forward, living our lives in the future and not in the past. That’s what spawned bands like Arc Angels and Storyville. But as far as Double Trouble now, there is no agenda as to what the band needs to be other than a band that works well together and makes really good music.”
TS: “That’s the magic of the whole thing!” ^m^
Chris Layton – Drums Austin, TX
Tommy Shannon – Bass
Doyle Bramhall II – Vocals & Guitar Eric Johnson – Guitar
Charlie Sexton – Vocals, Keys & Guitar) Willie Nelson – Guitar
Jimmie Vaughan – Vocals & Guitar Dr. John – Vocals & Keys
Reese Wynans – Keys Susan Tedeschi – Vocals & Guitar
Gordie Johnson – Guitar Malford Milligan – Vocals
Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Guitar Lou Ann Barton – Vocals
Jonny Lang – Vocals & Guitar
About The Current CD:
Although they’ve recorded with numerous musicians (as well as releases under different band names), this is the first album issued by Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton as Double Trouble since the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Double Trouble Storyville
Been A Long Time (Tone-Cool, 2001) Dog Years (Atlantic, 1998)
A Piece Of Your Soul (Atlantic, 1996)
Arc Angels (DGC, 1992)
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
In Step (Epic, 1989)
Soul To Soul (Epic, 1985)
Couldn’t Stand The Weather (Epic, 1984)
Texas Flood (Epic, 1983)
Various tracks produced by: Double Trouble and/or Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II and Stephan Bruton
© February 1, 2001. Michael D. Vogel. All Rights Reserved. This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at http://www.vogelism.com, authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as the entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.