It was early 1986, and I was playing with Jackson Browne. It happened to be Jackson’s birthday that night, and after show festivities were quite a spectacle at the Ritz Carlton hotel somewhere in the United States. I believe it was Jackson‘s 38th birthday, because I was 28, and I always thought it was interesting that Jackson and I were one decade apart in age. But I digress.
Stevie Ray who was a dear friend of Jackson‘s literally sauntered into the hotel bar, fully dressed in SRV gear. You know, Bitchin handmade shirt, leather pants, a hat similar to the one in this photo, and the requisite cowboy boots. He catches the eye one of the crewmembers, who escorts him in from the hotel lobby precipice into the bar, and as he was lead in, of course many admirers wanted to shake his hand, or get a photo of him with a “real” camera, or simply bathe in his larger than life presence. He was remarkably gracious, and spent as much time as deemed necessary with each and every person who wanted his attention.
Stevie Ray was, as everyone knew at the time dealing with significant alcohol and drug issues, and wouldn’t be getting clean and sober until the latter part of 1986, but in the meantime… he bellied up to the bar with myself, Jackson, some bandmembers as well as most of the crew, and proceeded to buy everyone at the bar a $65 shot of some sort of fine Brandy that the bartender procured from the very top shelf of this well appointed, and quite beautiful Bar.
When everyone’s snifters were set in front of them, Stevie raised his and presented the band, crew, Jackson, myself and everyone else at the bar with a happy birthday toast, and then proceeded to pour at least a gram, if not a couple of grams of cocaine into his brandy snifter, which he summarily downed in one glorious gulp.
To be honest, the rest of the evening is a bit fuzzy, but I seem to remember stumbling up to my room in the wee hours of the morning, and consuming most of my mini bar.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35 when he died in a helicopter crash outside East Troy, Wisconsin, at the Alpine Valley Musical theater August 27, 1990. I always found it remarkable that after all those years of drug and alcohol abuse, Stevie Ray who was one of those shining stars with the potential of burning out way to quickly found sobriety almost 4 years before his death at the hands of an ill-equipped helicopter pilot who was not accustomed to flying in the inclement weather.
Fast forward approximately 20 years after Stevie’s death, I played that same venue in Wisconsin with Jonathan Davis. After the show, the venue, a beautiful outdoor musical Theater Was shrouded with fog. I’m guessing the same kind of fog that was present the night the helicopter slammed into a mountain killing everyone on board.
I do remember standing and briefly bowing my head and saying a little prayer, or having a moment of meditation for the lives lost, and for the people who loved those who perished.
Michael Jochum is a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Drummer, Author, advocate for the disabled musician, Activist, and dog lover.