Baylor alum’s documentary ‘Brothers in Blues’ is star-studded, heartfelt history

Photo courtesy of Kirby Warnock

By Maximilian Diehl | Staff Writer

There is a distinct air about Texas that almost anyone, Texan or not, can point out with ease. To actually quantify it is slightly more difficult, as it revolves around a number of different cultural anomalies. For Baylor alumnus and documentarian Kirby Warnock, the unique Texan culture can most easily be pointed at in the form of blues and rock music.

More specifically, the era of Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan’s rise to fame from the Dallas and Austin music scenes piques his interest. Warnock’s documentary, “Brothers in Blues,” a record of the astronomical impact that the Vaughan brothers had on the music industry at large, premiers in Waco on March 27. Warnock also hopes it offers deeper insight into their personal lives in a way never before possible.

While the documentary is certainly a history of Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, the story of the creative process begins with Warnock’s unique understanding of the medium of film coupled with his continuous working relationship alongside the brothers for most of their early career. As a writer for “Buddy” magazine out of Dallas, Warnock was front and center for the meteoric rise of the Vaughan brothers from the very beginning, showcasing them in multiple articles while they were still playing the Texas club circuit.

“I met [Stevie and Jimmie] almost 47 years ago now, back when I was covering music and clubs,” Warnock said. “I’d never seen anything like them … they were just incredible, and by the time they had signed major deals, we had been in touch for years.”

Warnock’s years of working with the Vaughan brothers allowed a higher level of trust, resulting in his documentary having the actual support and blessing of the Vaughan estate. In the documentary many rock superstars join to offer their experiences with the brothers, including Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Nile Rodgers and others personally discussing their lives and relationships with Stevie Ray. This level of intimacy with those surrounding the Vaughans creates a space for Warnock’s effort nearly 30 years after Stevie Ray’s passing.

“I got the feeling they wanted to tell their stories,” Warnock said. “Everything about [the Vaughan brothers], they loved them. All they ever did was speak of them in terms of glowing admiration, never a mediocre thing to say … but they wanted to wait until the right time. It’s almost like we had to wait for 30 years for them to be ready after such heartbreak.”

Most of all, it was about the cooperation of Jimmie Vaughan. The living legend and brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan appears in the documentary strumming away on his personal guitar, right in between opening up about some of the deepest moments of his life and offering his testament for the first time. Jimmie’s involvement, Warnock said, is what makes this documentary so novel, and so important. It captures the perspective of the brother who saw it all, something that no other filmmaker had previously had in their efforts.

Beyond Warnock’s relationship with the brothers, the documentary really begins to take form around the idea that film can be used as historical record, as a literary art. Warnock has taken aim at a goal of creating an oral account of this moment in Texan history, trying to document some of the greatest performers Texas has ever produced. For Warnock, the idea of preserving this history meant he had to do it while those who lived in it could still retell their tales personally. He wanted a true oral tradition of these Texas legends, the history as it happened in the eyes of those who saw it.

“Oral history is capturing someone’s story, and doing it while they’re still living,” Warnock said. “We must capture these moments while these people are still here or we will lose them. Clapton and Jimmy tell us the whole tale in a way almost no one else can. I wanted to chase down all of the stories, I wanted to talk to those who were in the room when it happened.”

Documentary film is certainly a great medium for the translation of these oral accounts, and Baylor Film and Digital Media professor Greg Jurls has a vision — and a musical taste — not all too dissimilar from Warnock.

“These stories are important, hearing an account from someone actually involved with the subject” Jurls said. “The best part is the ability to make it into a compelling history that someone wants to watch. Our walls are lowered when we are entertained. And that’s when we learn”.

“Brothers in Blues” premiers on March 27 at the Waco Hippodrome theater.