Rock History

Cover Story – “A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan”, cover by W.A. Williams


All images Copyright 1988-90, 1998 and 2007 W.A. Williams –

Subject – A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan – a 1996 CD & DVD release from Sony Music Entertainment, with cover photography by W.A. Williams

A short while ago, I wrote a Cover Story based on an interview with photographer Robert M. Knight and his photos of guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan. The response to this article was astounding – although SRV’s been gone 17 years, his fan base is a DEDICATED one and his music brings great joy to them (and to anyone else lucky enough to be within earshot).

That article also introduced me to another fine photographer who was part of the SRV “inner circle” – W.A. Williams (aka “The Reverend Billy Rose”, a fine performer on his own right), from Cincinnati, OH. Finding W.A. also solved a personal mystery that has haunted me for a number of years. A number of years ago, I bought a fantastic image of SRV at a fund-raising event and, unfortunately, the person that donated it did not provide any information regarding who had taken the photograph. It was signed, but for the life of me, I could not make out the signature, and so I’ve had this “mystery photograph” proudly displayed on a wall next to a great photo of Jimi Hendrix by Nona Hatay and hoped that, someday, I’d find out who the photographer was.


All images Copyright 1988-90, 1998 and 2007 W.A. Williams –

Well, after visiting W.A.’s web site, my mystery was solved – there it was! After that date with Destiny, I knew that I’d need to do a Cover Story on W.A. and, arguably, his best-known image – his portrait not of the musician, but of the musician’s favorite instrument, known to fans as “Number One” (or “#1”). This was the image that Sony chose to use to illustrate the cover of their 1996 releases of a CD and DVD titled A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan, which chronicled the 1995 concert organized by his brother Jimmy, gathering guitardom’s best (Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt) – along with keyboardists Dr. John and Art Neville and the Double Trouble rhythm section of Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon – in Austin to pay homage to their compadre who’d died in a tragic accident five years before. What better way to do that than through heartfelt and impressive interpretations of SRV tunes?


All images Copyright 1988-90, 1998 and 2007 W.A. Williams –

Number One was a used Fender Stratocaster – found in 1973 by Stevie in an Austin music shop, for which he traded in his original Strat – that was a patchwork of parts (a ’62 with ’59 pickups and, later, a gold, left-handed tremolo, added to emulate the upside-down arrangement of the guitars of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Rush, who both influenced Stevie’s playing style) and decorative touches such as stickers of the word “Custom” and his initials “SRV” applied. The guitar was an important part of Stevie’s sound and on-stage persona, and so it is only fitting that Mr. Williams’ photograph was chosen as a stand-in, in tribute to its former owner on the cover of these recordings. W.A.’s friendship with SRV and the details of his #1 cover photo session are the subject of today’s Cover Story…

In the words of the photographer, W.A. Williams (interviewed in October, 2007) –

“In the summer of 1987 (after returning to college in 1983 after a number of years spent as a singer), I was a semester away from finishing my undergraduate studies. I had finished all of my TV and radio production classes and was going bonkers needing to get my hands into something. A professor of mine – younger than myself – suggested I take a photography class. I had my camera and off I went. I had a blast shooting everything and anything. I have always loved photographing people more than anything. Some friends of mine – the Toler Brothers, Danny and Dave (Frankie) from Connersville, Indiana and Tim Heding, from Cincinnati – were playing with The Gregg Allman Band. They were doing a show at Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center and I was invited to the show. I rode the band bus over to the venue and photographed the band’s set as a class project. I decided I’d stick around for the headliner… a guy named Stevie Ray Vaughan. The thing that initially impressed me about Stevie was that Tommy Shannon was playing bass – I’d been a Shannon fan since the days he was with Johnny Winter.

Anyway, I photographed the set. I went anywhere I wanted to go and no one asked me anything!!! Towards the end of Stevie’s show, the lights came down and things got quiet as Stevie began to address the crowd. I didn’t know who Stevie was or that he was just 4 months shy of celebrating his first year of sobriety. As Stevie spoke, chills ran through my body and the hair on my neck stood up – I knew I was in the presence of one who knew God on a personal basis. I was blown away as an audience of 25,000 people hung on his every word and cheered as he testified before them. I had never seen an artist of his caliber bare his soul to such a large secular congregation. I went back stage after the show and captured a few candid images and left, never thinking I’d ever see him again. I went back to school, developed the film and printed some pictures. A fellow student asked me if the picture in the developing tray was Stevie and I told him ‘yes’ and asked him if he knew who he was. Of course, having recognized Stevie’s image, he knew who he was!

I decided to send a picture to Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer, himself a Cincinnati native. I had met Bruce prior to my becoming a photographer through contacts with Johnny Winter and with Lonnie Mack. I sent the picture and unbeknownst to me, it was intercepted by Bruce’s assistant, Mindy Giles. In turn, Mindy sent the picture to Stevie’s management. I started my graduate work in January of 1988. It must have been around February that I received a phone call and it was Stevie’s management wanting to know if I was…’W.A. Williams, Photographer.’ I though to myself… ‘Well, I AM today!’ I was asked if I’d like to take some more pictures and I answered with a resounding ‘YES!!!’ On March 5th, of 1988, I found myself on my way to the Holiday Star Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana to officially photograph Stevie for the first time.

Anyway, the SRV crew gave me carte blanche to shoot whatever and as much as I wanted at every show I photographed. I suppose they did like my work…once when I queried Alex Hodges, Stevie’s personal manager, about the use of my images (I had sent him a lot), he replied, ‘Your pictures are the kind we hang in our houses, Bill.’ I found that quite complimentary and actually true, that he and others with Strike Force were, in fact, mounting and framing my work and hanging it in their homes and offices. I suppose they also express their pleasure with my work in that they kept letting me and my cameras come back!

As for the inspiration for the image of his guitar – I had arrived at the Ohio Center in Columbus, OH, early and was wandering around the empty venue capturing moments of a quiet time. I was shooting the crew at work and I went up on stage and saw this configuration already set in place. The trunk was there and the guitar was on the stand on the trunk. The towel was draped across the corner of the trunk and the strap over the towel. It looked very cool and I aimed, composed and released the shutter. One time and one time only, there was no reason to shoot again – I had gotten it the first time. Had I been a “real photographer”, I suppose I would have sliced and diced the situation shooting dozens of times from all angles and shot the living Soul right out of the image. It was a beautiful thing. I saw it. I liked what I saw and I shot it. It was that simple.

Tech Talk – I usually shot with B&W film – Kodak Tri-X 400 always pushed to 800…regardless – and I sepia-toned the image. There were no other ‘tricks of the trade’ nor ‘bells and whistles’ added. I was using NIKON F3 High Eye Point bodies with one of two lenses. I had and still have a NIKON 35 1:4 that I use as my normal lens and my coup de grace for my ‘signature shots’, the NIKON 80-200 2:8 (I LOVE that lens!!!). I shot either aperture priority or fully manually and would use a fill flash if needed. I preferred to shoot with the existing lighting. I would have been using the 35 1:4 and a flash for this photo because the arena was nearly dark at the time.

Having personally faced and conquered the demons of the ‘rock and roll lifestyle’, at the time, in my mind, I’m still not a “photographer” in the sense that people think I am and my motive was to simply be there for Stevie as part of his support network for encouraging his day-to-day walk in sobriety. He and I even talked about this on the night I captured both the ‘Number 1’ and the ‘Last Call’ images. It was a very spiritual and emotional moment for both of us. Each show, eighteen from June 23, 1987 to July 15th, 1990, we had brief moments to catch up and it was never about business. I didn’t care about the business; I didn’t care about money – I never asked Stevie or his organization for anything. They were the ones who called me and brought me into the loop. I had been sober for sixteen years when I met Stevie in ’87 and remain so unto this day, twenty years later.


All images Copyright 1988-90, 1998 and 2007 W.A. Williams –

There were times I have wished I had never become this ‘W.A. Williams Photographer guy’, but it was meant to be for some reason. I don’t think the answer is as simple as it being about the photography. I’ve had thoughts of destroying every image I have, of every artist with whom I have even had the privilege to have photographed, but why? Why deprive the world of being right on stage with some of the greatest entertainers who have ever graced a stage?

I think about standing not more than 40 feet away from Joe Cocker standing center stage with me in the wings, observing this phenomenal talent and crying as he sang ‘You Are So Beautiful’, knowing all the while it was his mother’s favorite song and in that moment, believing it was her to whom he was singing. It could have all been in my imagination but I was there. Laying my camera on the front of the stage as Stevie played ‘Little Wing’ or ‘Voodoo Child’ and thinking ‘wherever Jimi is tonight, he’s smilin’ real big.’ Watching Stevie go into the solo of ‘Couldn’t Stand the Weather’, standing not ten feet from him in front of the stage as he closed his eyes and went somewhere magical and as the second half of the solo kicked in he was up on his toes dancing backwards making the crowd erupt with cheering and applause that was so filled with love and passion that it was intoxicating. Booze, drugs… man, if you didn’t experience Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble in full control of your faculties, you really blew it!

I have been blessed in so many ways and… I have been cursed. I am not one who possesses a thick skin. I look like a hardcore outlaw biker – well, I did before I lost nearly 100 pounds (down to 235!), so now, I’m not sure!!! Anyway, I’m a soft touch and that’s probably why I’m not better known as a photographer. My desire is to share my gifts, these wonderful images I possess of Stevie and all the others with whom I have been fortunate enough to have worked. I’d like to get my first book of my photography published and go from there. I think the time is right.”

About the photographer, W.A. Williams (in his own words) –

billy090307e.jpg“In addition to my shots of Number 1 and ‘the Last Call’ that have been used on a major label release, I was honored to have been asked to shoot the late great Boogie Woogie piano master and powerhouse vocalist Big Joe Duskin’s return to recording (Living Blues called him ‘The Lion of Winter’), Yellow Dog Records’ 2004 release, Big Joe Duskin: Big Joe Jumps Again! Cincinnati Blues Session. The CD featured the King Records original rhythm section of Philip Paul/Drums and Ed Conley/Bass. Mr. Peter Frampton makes a guest appearance on two tracks.

I have also done a variety of photos for indie artist recordings such as Sharon Lane and Danny Sauers: Gig’s Up (I do some back up singing and contribute to crowd noise), Bonnie Allyn’s: Tavern (on which I also sing as The Reverend Billy Rose!), Blue Lou and The Accusations: Guacamole Dip, Sharon Howarth: Psalm Singer, The Blue Birds (Cincinnati): Argentina, Jeff Pitchell and Texas Flood: Fat Cigars, Dallas Moore: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys and others by Jason Dennie and Josh Smith.

I have had my work featured in most of the major music magazines over the past seventeen years since Stevie’s death and have been published both nationally and internationally. I also have to my credit:

Little Brown and Company’s 1993 best seller – penned by Bill Crawford and Joe Nick Patoski – titled, Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire (one of my photos graces the cover of both the hard and soft cover editions domestically as well as my photos being used in the book along with a blurb about W.A, Williams);

Taylor Publishing’s 1993 best-selling (Keri Leigh penned), Stevie Ray: Soul to Soul (there are more of my images in this book along with another blurb about W.A. Williams);

C.L. Hopkins is preparing to publish his third book on Stevie and has requested and received permission to publish some W.A. Williams images and has, in fact, already received them…watch for the release sometime in early 2008).

Fender Musical Instruments has used my work in promotions and in their Fender Frontline Magazine. MARS Music (advertisement), The Hard Rock Cafe’ (stained glass window in San Antonio), Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago (huge wall mural and photos displayed on the walls), VH-1 (their LEGENDS series), E! True Hollywood Story: Gary Busey. Sculptor Ralph Helmick used a bust shot of mine to design the head of his Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue in Austin, Texas. Other publications such as Block Magazine (Holland), Drums and Percussion (Germany), Drums and Drumming, Modern Drummer, The Kentucky Headhunters, Lynyrd Skynyrd (Fan Club Calendar), The Wilson Quarterly (a Smithsonian Institute publication used a photo of Buddy Guy) have all been clients and other photographic subjects include: Dick Dale, Jonny Lang, Jeff Beck, ARC Angels, Storyville, Johnny Johnson, Otis Rush, Doyle Bramhall, Lonnie Mack (my dear friend), The Gregg Allman Band, .38 Special, B.B.King, Johnny Winter, Lefty Dizz, Junior Wells, Little Milton, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The Neville Brothers, Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton, Hubert Sumlin, Jars of Clay, LIVE and Joe Cocker (Joe once told me, ‘Your pictures have Soul, Bill… YOU have Soul!’)

Other Clients/Publications include: Sony Music, Epic Records, MCA Records, Living Blues Magazine, Lee Oscar Harmonicas, Seymour Duncan, Mercury/Polygram Records, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Guitar (England), Guitarrista (Spain), Guitar World, Guitar Player, Billboard, Rolling Stone…. this list in no way represents all of the artists and clients/publications with whom I have worked. My work is out there and is very well known. It’s just that… I’m not!!!”

To see more of W.A. Williams work – both as a photographer and as a musician, please visit the following links: for photography and and for his music and photography.

To see more examples of iconic album/CD cover artwork in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please visit

About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday and syndicated the following week on The Rock and Roll Report, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

All images Copyright 1988-90, 1998 & 2007 W. A. Williams – – All rights reserved. Except as noted, All other text Copyright 2007 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery ( – All rights reserved.

One reply on “Cover Story – “A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan”, cover by W.A. Williams”

I just found some tracks of Stevie and Buddy Guy playing at legends on 7/30/1989 for Buddy’s birthday. I have been trying to find out if ANYONE had any pictures of this ????? I am a BIG Stevie and Buddy fan and would love to see ANY photo’s of that lengendary night!!!

Can you help me ??

Thank You


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