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Testifying, justifying, enjoying: Why not?

and substance of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Nathan Bryce sweated the details of gear and apparel, as well as the music, for Testify, his Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute project. Photo credit: Retha Dawes

Testify (from left): Nathan Bryce, Jeff Whittington and Cody Cook. Photo credit: Retha Dawes

From the age of 12, Nathan Bryce has been internalizing the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Early in Bryce’s career as a blues guitarist, he felt awkward when people said he was a Stevie Ray wannabe.

However, over time, he embraced the comparison.

He once avoided any suggestion of doing tribute projects, especially when fans urged him to do a tribute to his idol.

“Then it hit me, why not try it?” Nathan said.

He decided the tribute concept would not interfere with his trio, Nathan Bryce and Loaded Dice, playing his originals and blues standards. He, Jeff Whittington (drums) and Cody Cook (bass) worked for six months or more, combing through videos, practicing signature licks, building the new SRV project.

The players of Testify will perform 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31, at Krave.

The project is called Testify …

… in honor of Vaughan’s blasting-out-of-the-gate show-opening song.

“It’s cool that I can pay tribute to him. Not copying, but paying tribute and keeping his music alive,” he said.

A signature music-making posture. Photo credit: Retha Dawes

“The neat thing about doing a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute is he never played it note-for-note,” Nathan said. “I just play what comes from the heart.”

With all their research and practice, they seem to have seduced some fans into thinking it’s a reincarnation. “I have a lot of people coming up to me at shows, saying ‘Wow, that was note-for-note. You nailed it!’ Well, not really. But if it sounds like it’s note-for-note, that’s cool.”

Jeff and Cody had to make some changes in the way they play their instruments. “The thing about them is their open-mindedness to learn,” Nathan said, noting that they are focusing on the work of Stevie Ray’s bandmates in his three-piece band of the mid-1980s, drummer Chris Layton and bass player Tommy Shannon.

“They’ve spent a lot of time just as I have, dialing,” Nathan said. “We work really well together as a team.”

Moment in time

The musicians of Testify and of Nathan Bryce and Loaded Dice (from left): Cody Cook, Nathan Bryce and Jeff Whittington. Photo credit: Retha Dawes

Nathan, Jeff and Cody present a stage of Stevie Ray’s career. They don’t play the greatest hits; they play what Double Trouble played in late 1984 to early ’85, before Vaughan added a keyboard to his band.

The latter-day trio pretty much plays the same set list, including: “Texas Flood,” when Stevie Ray plays his guitar behind his back; “Love Struck,” when he plays behind his head; and the encore piece, “Third Stone from the Sun,” when Stevie Ray stands on his guitar.

The right stuff

Nailing the SRV aura required more than just nailing the music.

Nathan needed the right guitar, the right gear. He built a replica of Stevie Ray’s instrument, starting with a Sunburst Stratocaster body. He already had the pedals and amps to achieve the SRV tone. He found the right clothes, boots, jeans and the right hat that he decorated with conch shells.

Different bands, same musicians

The Testify players of 2018 are always focused on getting things right, not just testifying but also doing justice to the music, Nathan said. There’s a different vibe for the crew when they are performing as Nathan Bryce and Loaded Dice.

Using an extended technique for making music. Photo credit: Retha Dawes

“Whenever we go to do our show, it’s like, ‘ah’ (exhalation), and we can just play. It’s way more relaxed.” he said. “I look forward to doing a Nathan Bryce show because — cool — I get to be me!”

Over time, he expects Testify will become more of a relaxed experience for the band. Already, the musicians are enjoying the different feels of the two bands. Venue owners and listeners are catching on to that as well. There’s a synergy between the two bands, bringing more fans to each, Nathan said.

“There’s no reason why I can’t do that and still have my own band, too.”