Of all of the rock-blues guitarists I really appreciate, I’m not sure if there is one who is a more of an integrated blend of obvious influences and original sound than Stevie Ray Vaughan. He burst onto the scene in the early 1980s. Many don’t know that he played lead guitar on David Bowie’s highly successful album “Let’s Dance” before that relationship devolved into a train-wreck over credit and opportunities for Vaughan. Stevie then took the lead with his own band, Double Trouble, and released “Texas Flood” in 1983. There are obvious similarities in style between Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, and his sound is deeply rooted in American blues, but there is also something very unique and remarkable about Vaughan, both in his guitar playing as well as his Texas twang vocals. Losing him when we did (a helicopter accident in 1990) remains one of the many tragedies of this industry.
This album opens with a blues burst. The first song is “Lovestruck Baby”, which is more on the up-tempo side, and then we have my all-time favorite SRV song, “Pride and Joy”. His fierce defense of his true love, combined with some insane guitar playing, has always elevated this song for me. It is simply spectacular music, and provided a nice contrast to the thin, keyboard-pop sound of the early 1980s that was taking over. Next comes a true blues classic, the title song, and you hear once again that Stevie is great, not just good, at what he does here. With just this first album, he creates a sound that is legendary to this day.
The rest of the album is filled with several instrumental jams and blues-deep jams. “I’m Cryin’” is a bit of “Pride and Joy” repurposed, “Dirty Pool” is truly a filthy jam, and what can you say about a blues-rock interpretation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? There are thousands of blues guitarists out there jamming every day, but none of them sounded like, or jammed as hard, as Stevie Ray Vaughan once he hit his stride.
I was lucky enough to see SRV at two of my favorite venues in the world. First, I saw him sit in with the Neville Brothers at Tipitina’s during Mardi Gras 1987, which was amazing. I’m not positive, but in my head, I believe they covered “Red House” by Hendrix. Following that, just a year before his death, I was able to see him at Red Rocks with my friends Mike & Jim. It was an awesome show of course, and Stevie was candid and blunt about finally overcoming the demons of addiction and looking forward to a healthy and long life ahead. Such a waste, that early loss of life, but his gift of guitar greatness will absolutely live on forever; what a tremendous talent.