Why David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ Video Angered Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan's lead guitar work on David Bowie's Let's Dance served as his introduction to the world, particularly his outro solo on the title track.
But the late guitarist wasn't too pleased when the song's video came out and Bowie was spotted playing along to it.
In a new excerpt from Alan Paul and Andy Aledort’s upcoming biography Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rolling Stone present a look at the guitar player's brief period with Bowie.
As Double Trouble drummer Chris "Whipper" Layton recalled, "Stevie was about to become world famous as the guy who played that solo, but the video really bothered him. Bowie’s wearing white linen gloves, and Stevie said, 'That motherfucker shouldn’t be pretending to be playing shit he wasn’t playing!' He couldn’t understand why Bowie would do that."
Watch David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' Video
The collaboration started simply enough after Bowie saw Vaughan perform in Montreux and asked him to play on his new record. Even though the sessions -- where Vaughan, as he put it, "just sprayed Albert King all over the fucker" and had ribs shipped from his favorite Austin barbecue joint to New York -- went smoothly, tensions between the two arose when Vaughan attempted to join Bowie's band for the subsequent tour.
Vaughan had trouble taking direction on movement from Bowie; Vaughan's wife Lenny even wound up getting barred from rehearsals.
Worse, Bowie didn't want the young guitarist doing any press for his debut album, Texas Flood, which was about to come out. A plan was proposed by to have Vaughan and his band Double Trouble serve as the opener on the arena tour to give them some exposure.
But the logistics of having Vaughan in the band, Double Trouble opening shows and also playing small club shows on off days became too much, and the plan was scrapped before it was formally offered.
Vaughan discussed his dilemma with Bowie guitarist and musical director Carlos Alomar.
"I told him man-to-man that the star here is David Bowie," Alomar said, "and his fans might discover you and your new release, but history suggests they won’t. Plus, dude! You only get one shot at your first album, and Bowie’s management are not suddenly gonna put their press team at your disposal."
"Chesley [Millikin, Vaughan's manager] felt like Stevie had really helped relaunch Bowie’s career and they were disrespecting him, treating him just like another sideman," Milikin's friend J. Marshall Craig added. "He thought he should be paid more than a backup singer. He wanted Stevie to be on the tour, but not for low pay, no opening shows, not allowed to talk about his own band. Chesley and [Vaughan’s publicist] Charlie Comer held a beef against David Bowie till the end."
Fed up with the situation, Vaughan quit the band on the eve of the tour, while Bowie was unreachable on vacation, and was quickly replaced by Earl Slick. In 1986, Vaughan was blunt about what happened.
"He asked me to do the tour with Double Trouble opening up," he said on a New Zealand television show. "And it stopped because Double Trouble was really never ever included on the shows. It was just a lot of bullshit. ... He just wanted me to play with him." You can watch the interview below.