Stephen "Stevie" Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. In spite of a short-lived mainstream career spanning seven years, he is widely considered as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of blues music, and one of the most important figures in the revival of blues in the 1980s. Allmusic describes him as "a rocking powerhouse of a guitarist who gave blues a burst of momentum in the '80s, with influence still felt long after his tragic death."
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Vaughan began playing guitar at the age of seven, inspired by his older brother Jimmie. In 1971, he dropped out of high school and moved to Austin the following year. He played gigs with numerous bands, earning a spot in Marc Benno's band, the Nightcrawlers, and later with Denny Freeman in the Cobras, with whom he continued to work through late 1977. He then formed his own group, Triple Threat Revue, before renaming the band Double Trouble after hiring drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. He gained fame after his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, and in 1983 his debut studio album, Texas Flood, charted at number 38. The ten-song album was a commercially successful release that sold over half-a-million copies. After achieving sobriety in late 1986, he headlined concert tours with Jeff Beck in 1989 and Joe Cocker in 1990 before his death in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35.
Vaughan was inspired musically by American and British blues rock. He favored clean amplifiers with high volume and contributed to the popularity of vintage musical equipment. He often combined several different amplifiers together and used minimal effects pedals. Chris Gill of Guitar World commented: "Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar tone was as dry as a San Antonio summer and as sparkling clean as a Dallas debutante, the product of the natural sound of amps with ample clean headroom. However, Vaughan occasionally used pedals to augment his sound, mainly to boost the signal, although he occasionally employed a rotating speaker cabinet and wah pedals for added textural flair."
Vaughan was the receiver of several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1983, readers of Guitar Player voted him as Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitar Player. In 1984, the Blues Foundation named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, and in 1987 Performance Magazine honored him with Rhythm and Blues Act of the Year. Earning six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time.
Family and early life
Stevie Ray Vaughan's ancestry dates as far back as the nineteenth century. His paternal great-grandfather Robert LaRue moved his family from Kentucky to Terrell, Texas, one of the most productive cotton-growing areas in the United States at that time. Robert had a daughter named Laura Belle LaRue, Vaughan's paternal grandmother. She married a man from Arkansas named Thomas Lee Vaughan. They moved onto a region of land in Rockwall County and made their living off of sharecropping. On September 6, 1921, Thomas and Laura had a son they named Jimmie Lee Vaughan; people called him Jim.
Jim, who dropped out of school at the age of sixteen, enlisted to serve with the United States Navy on the outbreak of World War II. After returning from service, Jim met Martha Cook (1928–2009) while working as an attendant at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Dallas; they married on January 13, 1950. Stephen Ray Vaughan was born on October 3, 1954, in Dallas, Texas; he was three-and-a-half years younger than his brother Jimmie (born 1951). Jim secured a job as an asbestos worker, an occupation that involved rigorous, manual effort. The family frequently moved, living in other states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma before ultimately moving to the Oak Cliff suburb of Dallas. A shy and insecure boy, Vaughan was deeply affected by his childhood experiences. Jim struggled with alcohol abuse, and often terrorized his family and friends with his bad temper. In later years, Vaughan recalled that he had been a victim of Jim's violence.
In the early 1960s, Vaughan's admiration for Jimmie resulted in him trying different instruments such as the drums and saxophone. In 1961, for his seventh birthday, Vaughan received his first guitar, a toy with only three strings. Learning by ear, he diligently committed himself, following along to songs by the Nightcaps, particularly "Wine, Wine, Wine" and "Thunderbird". He listened to blues artists such as Albert King, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters, and rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, as well as jazz guitarists including Kenny Burrell. In 1963, he acquired his first electric guitar, a Gibson ES-125T, as a hand-me-down from Jimmie.
Soon after he acquired the electric guitar, Vaughan joined his first band, the Chantones. Their first gig was at a talent contest held in Dallas' Hill Theatre, but after realizing that they could not perform a Jimmy Reed song in its entirety, Vaughan left the band and joined the Brooklyn Underground, playing professionally at local bars and clubs. He received Jimmie's Fender Broadcaster, which he later traded for an Epiphone Riviera. When Jimmie left home at age sixteen, Vaughan's apparent obsession with the instrument caused a lack of support from his parents. Miserable at home, he took a job at a local hamburger stand, where he washed dishes and dumped trash for seventy cents an hour. After falling into a barrel of grease, he was fired and devoted his life to a music career.
In May 1969, after leaving the Brooklyn Underground, Vaughan joined a band called the Southern Distributor. He had learned The Yardbirds' "Jeff's Boogie" and played the song at the audition. Mike Steinbach, the group's drummer, commented: "The kid was fourteen. We auditioned him on 'Jeff's Boogie,' really fast instrumental guitar, and he played it note for note." Although they played pop rock covers, Vaughan conveyed his interest in the addition of blues songs to the group's repertoire; he was told that he wouldn't earn a living playing blues music and the band parted ways. Later that year, bassist Tommy Shannon walked into a Dallas club and heard Vaughan playing guitar. Fascinated by the skillful playing, which he described as "incredible even then", Shannon borrowed a bass guitar and the two jammed. Within a few years, they began performing together in a band called Krackerjack.
In February 1970, Vaughan joined a band called Liberation, which was a nine-piece group with a horn section. Having spent the past month briefly playing bass with Jimmie in Texas Storm, he had originally auditioned as bassist. Impressed by Vaughan's guitar playing, Scott Phares, the group's original guitarist, modestly became the bassist. In mid-1970, they performed at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, where ZZ Top asked to perform. During Liberation's break, Vaughan jammed with ZZ Top on the Nightcaps song "Thunderbird". Phares later described the performance: "They tore the house down. It was awesome. It was one of those magical evenings. Stevie fit in like a glove on a hand."
Attending Justin F. Kimball High School during the early 1970s, Vaughan's late-night gigs contributed to his neglect in his studies, including music theory; he would often sleep during class. Although his musical career pursuit was disapproved by many of the school's administrators, he was encouraged by many to strive for a career in art, including his art teacher. In his sophomore year, he attended an evening class for experimental art at Southern Methodist University, but bailed when it conflicted with rehearsal. Vaughan later spoke of his dislike of the school and stated that he had to receive a daily note from the principal about his grooming.
In September 1970, Vaughan made his first studio recordings with the band Cast of Thousands, which included future actor Stephen Tobolowsky. They recorded two songs, "Red, White and Blue" and "I Heard a Voice Last Night", for a compilation album, A New Hi, that featured various teenage bands from Dallas. In late January 1971, feeling confined by playing pop hits with Liberation, Vaughan formed his own band, Blackbird. After growing tired with the Dallas music scene, he dropped out of school and moved with the band to Austin, Texas, which had more liberal and tolerant audiences. There, Vaughan initially took residence at the Rolling Hills Country Club, a venue that would later become the Soap Creek Saloon. Blackbird played at several clubs in Austin and opened shows for bands such as Sugarloaf, Wishbone Ash, and Zephyr, but could not maintain a consistent lineup. By the end of the year, he joined a rock band, Krackerjack; he performed with them for less than three months.
In March 1973, Vaughan joined Marc Benno's band, the Nightcrawlers, after meeting Benno at a jam session years before. The band featured vocalist Doyle Bramhall, who met Vaughan when he was twelve years old. The next month, Vaughan and the Nightcrawlers recorded an album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood for A&M Records. While the album was rejected by A&M, it included Vaughan's first songwriting efforts, "Dirty Pool" and "Crawlin'". Soon afterward, he and the Nightcrawlers traveled back to Austin without Benno. In mid-1973, they signed a contract with Bill Ham, manager for ZZ Top, and played various gigs across the South, though many of them were disastrous. Ham left the band stranded in Mississippi without any way to make it back home and demanded reimbursement from Vaughan for equipment expenses; Ham was never reimbursed.
In 1975, Vaughan joined a six-piece band called Paul Ray and the Cobras that included guitarist Denny Freeman and saxophonist Joe Sublett. For the next two-and-a-half years, he earned a living performing weekly at a popular venue in town, the Soap Creek Saloon, and ultimately the newly opened Antone's, widely known as Austin's "home of the blues". In late 1976, Vaughan recorded a single with them, "Other Days" as the A-side and "Texas Clover" as the B-side. Playing guitar on both tracks, the single was released on February 7, 1977. In March, readers of the Austin Sun voted them as Band of the Year. In addition to playing with the Cobras, Vaughan jammed with many of his influences at Antone's, including Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Albert King.
Vaughan toured with the Cobras during much of 1977, but near the end of September, after they decided to strive for a mainstream musical direction, he left the band and formed Triple Threat Revue, which included singer Lou Ann Barton, bassist W. C. Clark, and drummer Fredde Pharoah. In January 1978, they recorded four songs in Austin including Vaughan's composition, "I'm Cryin'". The thirty minute audio recording marks the only known studio recording of the band.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
In mid-May 1978, Clark left to form his own group and Vaughan renamed the band Double Trouble, taken from the title of an Otis Rush song. Following the recruit of bassist Jackie Newhouse, Pharoah quit in July, and was briefly replaced by Jack Moore, who had moved to Texas from Boston; he performed with the band for about two months. Vaughan then began looking for a drummer and soon after, he met Chris Layton through Sublett, who was his roommate. Layton, who had recently parted ways with Greezy Wheels, was taught by Vaughan to play a shuffle rhythm. When Vaughan offered Layton the position, he agreed. In early July, Vaughan befriended Lenora Bailey, known as "Lenny", who became his girlfriend, and ultimately his wife, a marriage that lasted for six and a half years.
In early October 1978, Vaughan and Double Trouble earned a frequent residency performing at one of Austin's most popular nightspots, the Rome Inn. During a performance, Edi Johnson, an accountant at Manor Downs, noticed Vaughan. She remembered: "I'm not an authority on music — it's whatever turned me on — but this did." She recommended him to Manor Downs owner Frances Carr and general manager Chesley Millikin, who was interested in managing artists, and saw Vaughan's musical potential. After Barton quit Double Trouble in mid-November 1979, Millikin signed Vaughan to a management contract. Vaughan also hired Robert "Cutter" Brandenburg as road manager, whom he had met in 1969. Addressing him as Stevie Ray, Brandenburg convinced Vaughan to use his middle name on stage.
In October 1980, bassist Tommy Shannon attended a Double Trouble performance at Rockefeller's in Houston. Shannon, who was playing with Alan Haynes at the time, participated in a jam session with Vaughan and Layton halfway through their set. Shannon later commented: "I went down there that night, and I'll never forget this: it was like, when I walked in the door and I heard them playing, it was like a revelation — 'That's where I want to be; that's where I belong, right there.' During the break, I went up to Stevie and told him that. I didn't try to sneak around and hide it from the bass player [Jackie Newhouse] — I didn't know if he was listening or not. I just really wanted to be in that band. I sat in that night and it sounded great." Almost three months later, when Vaughan offered Shannon the position, he readily accepted.
Although popular in Texas at the time, Double Trouble failed to gain national attention. The group's luck progressed when record producer Jerry Wexler recommended them to Claude Nobs, organizer of the Montreux Jazz Festival. He insisted that the festival's blues night would be great with Vaughan, whom he called "a jewel, one of those rarities who comes along once in a lifetime", and Nobs agreed to book Double Trouble on July 17.
Vaughan opened with a medley arrangement of Freddie King's song "Hide Away" and his own fast instrumental composition, "Rude Mood". Double Trouble went on to perform renditions of Larry Davis' "Texas Flood", Hound Dog Taylor's "Give Me Back My Wig", and Albert Collins' "Collins Shuffle", as well as three original compositions: "Pride and Joy", "Love Struck Baby", and "Dirty Pool". The set ended with boos from the audience. People's James McBride wrote:
According to road manager Don Opperman: "The way I remember it, the 'ooos' and the 'boos' were mixed together, but Stevie was pretty disappointed. Stevie [had] just handed me his guitar and walked off stage, and I'm like, 'Are you coming back?' There was a doorway back there; the audience couldn't see the guys, but I could. He went back to the dressing room with his head in his hands. I went back there finally, and that was the end of the show." According to Vaughan: "It wasn't the whole crowd [that booed]. It was just a few people sitting right up front. The room there was built for acoustic jazz. When five or six people boo, wow. It sounds like the whole world hates you. They thought we were too loud, but shoot, I had four army blankets folded over my amp, and the volume level was on 2. I'm used to playin' on 10!" The performance was filmed and later released on DVD in September 2004.
Immediately after the festival, Double Trouble was booked in the lounge of the Montreux Casino, with Jackson Browne in attendance. Browne jammed with Double Trouble until the early morning hours and offered them free use of his personal recording studio in downtown Los Angeles. In late November, the band accepted his offer and recorded ten songs in two days. While they were in the studio, Vaughan received a telephone call from musician David Bowie, who met him after the Montreux performance, and he invited him to participate in a recording session for his next studio album, Let's Dance. In January 1983, Vaughan recorded guitar on six of the album's eight songs, including the title track and "China Girl". The album was released on April 14, 1983 and sold over three times as many copies as Bowie's previous album.
In mid-March 1983, Gregg Geller, vice president of A&R at Epic Records, signed Double Trouble to the label at the recommendation of record producer John H. Hammond. Soon afterward, Epic financed a music video for "Love Struck Baby", which was filmed at the Cherry Tavern in New York City. Vaughan recalled: "We changed the name of the place in the video. Four years ago I got married in a club where we used to play all the time called the Rome Inn. When they closed it down, the owner gave me the sign, so in the video we put that up behind me on the stage."
With the success of Let's Dance, Bowie requested Vaughan as the featured instrumentalist for the upcoming Serious Moonlight Tour, realizing that he was an essential aspect of the album's groundbreaking success. In late April, Vaughan began rehearsals for the tour in Las Colinas, Texas. When contract renegotiations for his performance fee failed, Vaughan abandoned the tour days before its opening date, and he was replaced by Earl Slick. Vaughan commented: "I couldn't gear everything on something I didn't really care a whole lot about. It was kind of risky, but I really didn't need all the headaches." Although contributing factors were widely disputed, Vaughan soon gained major publicity for quitting the tour.
On May 9, the band performed at The Bottom Line in New York City, where they opened for Bryan Adams, with Hammond, Mick Jagger, John McEnroe, Rick Nielsen, Billy Gibbons, and Johnny Winter in attendance. Brandenburg described the performance as "ungodly": "I think Stevie played every lick as loud and as hard and with as much intensity as I've ever heard him." The successful performance earned Vaughan a positive review published in the New York Post, asserting that Double Trouble outperformed Adams. "Fortunately, Bryan Adams, the Canadian rocker who is opening arena dates for Journey, doesn't headline too often", wrote Martin Porter, who claimed that after the band's performance, the stage had been "rendered to cinders by the most explosively original showmanship to grace the New York stage in some time."
After acquiring the recordings from Browne's studio, Double Trouble began assembling the material for a full-length LP. The album, Texas Flood, opens with the track "Love Struck Baby", which was written for Lenny on their "love-struck day". He composed "Pride and Joy" and "I'm Cryin'" for one of his former girlfriends, Lindi Bethel; they are both musically similar, but their lyrics are opposite perspectives of their prior relationship. Along with covers of Howlin' Wolf, The Isley Brothers, and Buddy Guy, the album included Vaughan's cover of Larry Davis' "Texas Flood", a song in which he became strongly associated with. "Lenny" served as a tribute to his wife, which he composed at the end of their bed.
Texas Flood featured cover art by illustrator Brad Holland, who is known for his artwork for Playboy and The New York Times. Originally envisioned with Vaughan sitting on a horse depicting a promotable image, Holland painted an image of him leaning against a wall with a guitar, using a photograph as a reference. Released on June 13, 1983, Texas Flood peaked at number 38 and ultimately sold half a million copies. While Rolling Stone editor Kurt Loder asserted that Vaughan did not possess a distinctive voice, according to Allmusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the release was a "monumental impact". Billboard described it as "a guitar boogie lovers delight". Agent Alex Hodges commented: "No one knew how big that record would be, because guitar players weren't necessarily in vogue, except for some that were so established they were undeniable...he was one of the few artists that was recouped on every record in a short period of time."
On June 16, Vaughan gave a performance at Tango nightclub in Dallas, which celebrated the album's release. Assorted VIPs attended the performance, including Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, and members of The Kinks and Uriah Heep. Jack Chase, vice president of marketing for Epic, recalled: "The coming-out party at Tango was very important; it was absolutely huge. All the radio station personalities, DJs, program directors, all the retail record store owners and the important managers, press, all the executives from New York came down — about seven hundred people. We attacked in Dallas first with Q102-FM and [DJ] Redbeard. We had the Tango party — it was hot. It was the ticket." The Dallas Morning News reviewed the performance, starting with the rhetorical question, "What if Stevie Ray Vaughan had an album release party and everybody came? It happened Thursday night at Tango...The adrenalin must have been gushing through the musicians' veins as they performed with rare finesse and skill."
Following a brief tour in Europe, Hodges arranged an engagement for Double Trouble as The Moody Blues' opening act during a two-month tour of North America. Hodges stated that many people disliked the idea of Double Trouble opening for The Moody Blues, but asserted that a common thread that both bands shared was "album-oriented rock". Shannon described the tour as "glorious": "Our record hadn't become that successful yet, but we were playing in front of coliseums full of people. We just went out and played, and it fit like a glove. The sound rang through those big coliseums like a monster. People were going crazy, and they had no idea who we were!" After appearing on the television series Austin City Limits, the band played a sold-out concert at New York City's Beacon Theatre. Variety wrote that their nintety-minute set at the Beacon "left no doubt that this young Texas musician is indeed the 'guitar hero of the present era.'"
Couldn't Stand the Weather, Double Trouble's second album, was released in 1984 to generally favorable reviews. Allmusic gave positive, although reserved, feedback, saying that there aren't "many weaknesses on the record, aside from the suspicion that Vaughan didn't really push himself as hard as he could have". Music critic Robert Christgau called it "a roadhouse album with gargantuan sonic imagination". The album was commercially successful, and while it did not receive better accolades, it peaked at number 31 on the US Billboard 200 chart. The album's title track and "Cold Shot" were released as singles, with their accompanying music videos receiving regular airplay in North America on MTV. The album also featured Double Trouble's rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," which would become a signature song for Vaughan in live performance.
On October 4, 1984, Double Trouble performed a sold-out benefit concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall, a recording of which was released after his death, as Live at Carnegie Hall. In celebration of Vaughan's thirtieth birthday, the show featured many special guests including the Roomful of Blues horn section, keyboardist Dr. John, Jimmie Vaughan, vocalist Angela Strehli, and drummer George Rains. The band wore custom velvet "mariachi" suits and designed a stage set of blue and gold. Vaughan originally planned to film the performance for future video release, though CBS Records declined. Strehli recalls: "... it was supposed to be videoed and at the last minute they pulled some kind of union thing: 'Well, this show is going to run past eleven, so that means we get double time.' So they had to cancel the video part, which is just a shame."
The concert was sold-out with Vaughan's closest friends, and family in the audience; the proceeds benefited the T.J. Martell Foundation's work in leukemia and cancer research. Vaughan was extremely excited and nervous, saying: "The last time I was that nervous is when I got married, but I couldn't show that to anybody ... I calmed down about halfway through 'Voodoo Chile.' I looked over at Tommy [Shannon], and he was just sort of staring at me, and that's when I knew it was gonna be all right." An afterparty was thrown by MTV for the band, record company, and other VIPs. According to the Dallas Times Herald, it took Vaughan an hour just to walk from the bar to the table across the room where his parents were sitting; the article also said, "Stevie Ray found his father, a retired asbestos worker who hadn't taken a plane ride since the Korean War, and hugged him until they both cried." After the show, Jimmie recalled that he was worried that the crowd would have been "a little stiff", saying "[It] turned out they're just like any other beer joint."
Following the Carnegie Hall performance, Double Trouble toured Australia and New Zealand, performing two shows at the Sydney Opera House. With increasing exposure, Vaughan's talent earned him two W. C. Handy Awards. He was the first white musician to receive Entertainer of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year. Vaughan also co-produced and played on Lonnie Mack's album Strike Like Lightning. Released in April 1985, the album become Alligator Records' best seller.
In April 1985, Vaughan appeared on opening day at the Houston Astrodome to perform "The Star Spangled Banner". Although he was the first guitarist to have opened a major league baseball game with the national anthem, Vaughan supposedly did not receive a positive reception for the rendition; one reporter said, "I was sure he'd be dead by the time he hit 30." Double Trouble's third studio album, titled Soul to Soul, was released on September 30, 1985, and featured new keyboardist Reese Wynans. Vaughan suggested that the album was named Soul to Soul because the band "learned a lot" and "grew a lot closer". Two singles from the album—"Change It" and "Look at Little Sister"—both peaked at number 17 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
In March 1986, Double Trouble shared the bill with The Fabulous Thunderbirds during a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The band recorded live concerts across three nights of a subsequent US tour in Austin and Dallas. These recordings, along with a 1985 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, were released as Live Alive on November 17, 1986. The album included a previously unreleased cover of Stevie Wonder's song "Superstition". Vaughan later admitted that the album wasn't his best, saying, "I wasn't in very good shape when we recorded Live Alive. At the time, I didn't realize how bad a shape I was in. There were more fix-it jobs done on the album than I would have liked. Some of the work sounds like [it was] the work of half-dead people. There were some great notes that came out, but I just wasn't in control; nobody was."
Vaughan developed an alcohol and cocaine habit while touring with Double Trouble; his performance contract called for two fifths of Crown Royal and one fifth of Scotch. His cocaine use increased to a quarter-ounce a day (about seven grams) and spiraled into a life-threatening dependency. Doyle Bramhall recalls that there were "mounds of cocaine laying on top of the organ," saying, "Where I was doing a lot, Stevie was doing five times, ten times more than I was doing." Vaughan's stomach became fiercely scarred from dissolving half a gram of cocaine in alcohol, leaving hundreds of small cuts in the stomach lining. During a tour of Europe a month later, Vaughan was hospitalized in Ludwigshafen for suffering from near-death dehydration after years of alcohol and substance abuse. Tommy Shannon said that as Vaughan tried to get up from his hotel bed, he vomited all over his chest and was covered with a puddle of blood. Layton recalled:
- We called an ambulance, and these German medics showed up in long white coats, shouting German to one another. They pulled out I.V.'s and we were screaming, 'Hey! Wait a minute! What the --- going on?' They spoke not a word of English, and we spoke no German. They put I.V.'s in him, and they wanted to take him to the hospital. We were yelling, 'Where are you taking him? What's happening? How will we find him?' They were giving him saline solution because they'd determined, by looking at his eyes and checking his vital signs, that he was suffering from near-death dehydration. They were trying to hydrate him. While he was laying on the bed, I looked into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a dead deer on the side of the road. They were almost dry, with no life in them. I got scared ---------.
- All of a sudden, the life came back into his eyes, and he said, 'I need help,' real weakly. I took that as the moment where he realized this has got to change. Not like, 'I need to get better so I can go back to doing what I've been doing,' but 'everything has to change.'
Vaughan was urged by a doctor to check into Peachford Hospital, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta, to begin a full recovery. He credits this visit with giving him tools, and a perspective on drug use as a disease causing both mental and physical craving, and resulting from previous problems. About a month later, he checked out of Peachford and went back to touring. Fully recovered and healthy, Vaughan began living a more spiritual, ascetic lifestyle. To maintain his sobriety and prevent a relapse, Vaughan removed a stipulation for being provided with alcohol backstage. He remained drug and alcohol free for the rest of his life, and continued to describe himself still as an alcoholic. Bonnie Raitt has credited Vaughan for breaking her substance abuse, saying that what gave her the courage to admit her alcohol problem and stop drinking was seeing that Vaughan was an even better musician when sober.
In October 1988, Vaughan began recording his fourth studio album with Double Trouble, In Step (1989); he enjoyed the chance the album gave him to express his experience with sobriety. Vaughan brought with him his deep devotion to music and sobriety, which had an impact on the band's positive attitude during the album. His goal to improve his guitar playing on the album was largely driven by a desire to make better music, or as drummer Chris Layton put it, more "essential music". Many of the songs written for In Step were composed during the Live Alive Tour. The album was stylistically unlike their previous albums, with less blues and more original, groove-oriented material.
In January 1990, Vaughan gave a speech at an AA meeting; a recording and transcript of the speech have been widely circulated on the internet. On January 30, Vaughan made a guest appearance on MTV Unplugged in New York City, performing "Rude Mood", "Pride and Joy", and "Testify". In March, Vaughan collaborated with his brother, Jimmie, to record Family Style, produced by Nile Rodgers which was released on September 25, 1990. Containing ten songs, the album was a long-awaited project for both brothers; Jimmie said that the sessions "seemed natural" and "almost like we were back home". Vaughan said, "We've probably gotten closer making this record than we have been since we were little kids at home, and I can honestly say I needed it."
In August 1990, Double Trouble opened for Eric Clapton during two concerts held at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. The second of the two shows took place on August 26 and featured a jam session, including Vaughan, with Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and Jimmie Vaughan, who performed "Sweet Home Chicago" as the finale to Clapton's set; Clapton introduced them as "the best guitar players in the entire world". Drummer Chris Layton recalled the conversation he had with Vaughan backstage after the show:
- The conversation was actually very light; there was nothing heavy in it. It was just like, 'this is a great coupla nights and wasn't it great to be here,' and talked about the record that he and Jimmie just made, how they had a lot of fun and that was exciting. He was looking forward to that coming out and looking forward to us making another record. He was in great spirits. I mean, we just had two great nights and we talked about all kinds of stuff, talked about the son that my wife and I were getting ready to have–we didn't know it was a boy–but just anything and everything. We talked for, I guess, almost 30 minutes.
- Then he got up and said, 'I'm gonna go back down to the dressing room for a minute.' I don't know, maybe five minutes or so later, he came back up and he had his jacket on, he had his bags. He was making this turn, and I said, 'Hey, what are you doin'?' And he said, 'I'm gonna go back to Chicago.' I said 'Well, now?' And he said, 'Yeah, I gotta get back. I want to call Janna,' his girlfriend, in New York. I thought, 'Jeez, you could actually call her anywhere and then call her later,' but he turned around and said, 'Call me when you get back. I love you,' and kinda gave me that wink of the eye he would do. And then he was gone. He just disappeared into the night.
Death, autopsy, and burial
On August 27, 1990, Vaughan had just performed with Double Trouble at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. All of the musicians boarded four helicopters bound for Chicago, which were waiting on a nearby golf course. According to a witness, there was haze and fog with patches of low clouds. Despite the conditions, the pilots were instructed to fly over a 1000-foot ski hill. Vaughan, along with three members of Eric Clapton's entourage (agent Bobby Brooks, bodyguard Nigel Browne, and assistant tour manager Colin Smythe), boarded the third of the four helicopters — a Bell 206B Jet Ranger — flying to Meigs Field. At about 12:50 am (CDT), the helicopter departed from an elevation of about 850 feet, veered to the left and crashed into the hill. All on board, including the pilot, Jeff Brown, were killed instantly. In Clapton: The Autobiography, Clapton explains that, contrary to rumors, his seat was not given to Vaughan but as indicated above, three members of Clapton's entourage were on board with Vaughan at the time of the crash.
At 4:30 am, Civil Air Patrol was notified of the accident, eventually locating the crash site almost three hours later. Both Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan were asked to identify the bodies; a Coptic cross necklace, worn by Vaughan, was given to Jimmie Vaughan. The Walworth County coroner conducted an autopsy and found that Vaughan suffered from multiple internal and skull injuries. The cause of death was officially stated as "exsanguination due to transverse laceration of the aorta". According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a veteran pilot for Alpine Valley suspected that Brown attempted to fly around the ski hill, but misjudged the location. Clapton issued a statement the next day, saying that the victims "were my companions, my associates and my friends. This is a tragic loss of some very special people. I will miss all of them very much."
Vaughan's memorial was held on August 30, 1990, at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, where he was buried next to his father, and was preceded by a private chapel service for close friends and family. Reverend Barry Bailey of the United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, who was Vaughan's AA sponsor, opened the service with personal thoughts: "We're here to thank God for this man's life. He was a genius, a superstar, a musician's musician. He captured the hearts of thousands and thousands of people. I am thankful for the impact of this man's influence on thousands of people in getting his own life together in the name of God." Kim Wilson, Jeff Healey, David Bowie, Charlie Sexton, ZZ Top, Colin James, and Buddy Guy attended the event. Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt sang "Amazing Grace" at the event. Nile Rodgers gave a eulogy, while a member of the Nightcrawlers read chapters five and eleven from The Big Book, the 'bible' of Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1995, the Vaughan family received an undisclosed settlement for wrongful death.
Vaughan and Lenora "Lenny" Bailey met in 1973 after one of Vaughan's performances with the Nightcrawlers at La Cucaracha, a nightclub in east Austin. Although moved by Vaughan's musical prowess, she was attracted to his charmingly modest personality. Double Trouble's song "Love Struck Baby", he said, was written about her, after claiming July 5 as their "love struck day". The couple was married on December 23, 1979, between sets at the Rome Inn in Austin, using pieces of wire for rings. Drummer, Chris Layton, described the ceremony as "spontaneous", saying, "It wasn't like there was invitations sent out or a certain group of people attended—it was just whoever was there was hanging around." Layton also said their marriage was "pretty excitable and passionate". The song "Pride and Joy" is also about her, as well as the instrumental "Lenny", after she thought "Pride and Joy" referred to a former girlfriend of Vaughan's.
Upon return to their home in Austin from touring, Vaughan found the house padlocked, electricity shut off, and Lenny nowhere to be found. Biographers Joe Nick Patoski and Bill Crawford wrote that she "squandered his road earnings on dope while running around with other men that one acquaintance glibly described as 'police characters.'" After she declined to visit Vaughan in treatment for substance abuse, he filed for divorce three months later. The case was settled out of court, with Lenny receiving alimony, plus $50,000 in cash and twenty-five percent of net royalties (excluding albums after Live Alive). Vaughan's manager attributes the demise of their marriage to "jealousy" and "unfaithfulness", and as a result, they were both brokenhearted.
On March 12, 1986, Double Trouble arrived in New Zealand for a performance at the Wellington Town Hall, where Vaughan was sitting outside his hotel room. Janna Lapidus, who was born in Russia, ran into Vaughan on the street and immediately struck up a friendship. In October 1986, while Vaughan was in the London Clinic for substance abuse, Lapidus visited him; they both decided to be together after seeing an older couple in front of them during a walk in Hyde Park.
During Vaughan's last two years before his death, he referred to Lapidus as his fiancée. They often made public appearances together including a commercial for Europa, a New Zealand-owned oil company. Janna also appeared in the video for 'The House is Rockin'. They first lived at Vaughan's childhood home in Dallas, then moved to a house on Travis Street on May 3, 1987. Lapidus found modeling work in New York City, and they relocated to a Manhattan apartment at Park Avenue and 24th Street in May 1990, splitting their time between Dallas and New York City.
Vaughan's music took root in blues, rock, and jazz. He was influenced by the work of artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Guitar Slim, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. According to nightclub owner Clifford Antone, who opened Antone's in 1975, Vaughan jammed with Albert King at Antone's in July 1977 and almost "scared him to death", saying that "it was the best I've ever saw Albert or the best I ever saw Stevie". He was also influenced by jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and George Benson. While Albert King had a substantial influence on Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix was Vaughan's greatest inspiration. Vaughan declared: "I love Hendrix for so many reasons. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist–he played damn well any kind of guitar he wanted. In fact I'm not sure if he even played the guitar–he played music."
Vaughan owed his guitar technique in large part to Lonnie Mack, who Vaughan observed in live performance as "ahead of his time". Mack later recalled his first meeting with Vaughan in 1978: "We was in Texas looking for pickers, and we went out to see the Thunderbirds. Jimmie was saying, 'Man, you gotta hear my little brother. He plays all your [songs].' He was playing a little place called the Rome Inn, and we went over there and checked him out. As it would be, when I walked in the door, he was playing 'Wham!' And I said, 'Dadgum.' He was playing it right. I'd been playing it wrong for a long time and needed to go back and listen to my original record. That was in '78, I believe." Vaughan owed part of his enduring style—especially his use of tremolo picking and vibrato—to Mack. He acknowledged that Mack taught him to "play guitar from the heart". Vaughan's relationship with another Texas blues legend, Johnny Winter, was a little more complex. Although they met several times, and often played sessions with the same musicians or even performed the same material, as in the case of Boot Hill, Vaughan always refrained from acknowledging Winter in any form. In his biography, "Raisin' Cain", Winter says that he was unnerved after reading Vaughan stating in an interview that he never met or knew Johnny Winter. "We even played together over at Tommy Shannon's house one time." Vaughan settled the issue in 1988 on the occasion of a Blues Festival in Europe where both he and Winter were on the bill, explaining that he has been misquoted and that "Every musician in Texas knows Johnny and has learned something from him". Asked to compare their playing styles in an interview in 2010, Winter admitted that "mine's a little bit rawer, I think."
Vaughan owned and used a variety of guitars during his career. His guitar of choice, and the instrument that he became most associated with, was the Fender Stratocaster, his favorite being a 1962 body, with a 1961 neck, and pickups dated from 1959. This is why Vaughan usually referred to his Stratocaster as a, "1959 Strat." Vaughan also referred to this instrument as his "first wife," or, "Number One." Another favourite guitar, was a slightly later Strat he named 'Lenny' after his wife, Lenora. While at a local pawn shop in 1980, Vaughan had noticed this particular guitar, a 1965 stratocaster that had been refinished in red, with the original sunburst finish peeking through. It also had a 1910 Mandolin inlay just below the bridge. The pawn shop was asking $300 for it, which was way more than Vaughan had at the time. Lenny saw how badly he wanted this guitar, so she got six of their friends to chip in $50 each, and bought it for him. The guitar was presented to him on his birthday in 1980, and that night, after bringing "Lenny" (the guitar, and wife) home with him, he wrote the song, "Lenny." He started using a borrowed Stratocaster during high school and used Stratocasters predominantly in his live performances and recordings, although he did play other guitars, including custom guitars built for him by James Hamilton of Hamiltone Guitars.
Vaughan bought many Stratocasters and gave some away as gifts. A sunburst Diplomat Strat-style guitar was purchased by Vaughan and given to his girlfriend Janna Lapidus to learn to play on. Vaughan used heavy strings starting with .013's, tuned a half-step below standard tuning. He played with so much tension that it was not uncommon for him to separate his fingernail from the quick movement along the strings. The owner of an Austin club recalled Vaughan coming into the office between sets to borrow some super glue, which he used to keep fingernail split from widening while he continued to play. He preferred a guitar neck with an asymmetrical profile (thicker at the top) which was more comfortable for his thumb-over style of playing. Heavy use of the vibrato bar necessitated frequent replacements; Vaughan often had his roadie, Byron Barr, obtain custom stainless steel bars made by Barr's father. Vaughan was also photographed playing a National Duolian, Epiphone Riviera, Gibson Flying V, as well as several other models. Vaughan used a Gibson Johnny Smith to record "Stang's Swang", and a Guild 12-string acoustic for his performance on MTV Unplugged in January 1990. On June 24, 2004, one of Vaughan's Stratocasters, dubbed "Lenny", was sold at an auction to benefit Eric Clapton's Crossroads Centre in Antigua; the instrument was bought by Guitar Center for $623,500.
Amplifiers and effects
Vaughan was a catalyst in the revival of vintage amplifiers and effects during the 1980s. His loud volume and use of heavy strings required powerful and robust amplifiers. Vaughan used two black-face Fender Super Reverbs, which were crucial in shaping his clear overdriven sound. He would often blend other amps with the Super Reverbs, including black-face Fender Vibroverbs, and brands such as Dumble, and Marshall, which he used for his clean sound. While his mainstay effects were the Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Vox wah-wah pedal, Vaughan experimented with a range of effects. He used a Fender Vibratone, designed as a Leslie speaker for electric guitars, and provided a warbling chorus effect, which can be heard on the track "Cold Shot". He used a vintage Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face that can be heard on In Step, as well as an Octavia.
Guitar rig and signal flow
A detailed gear diagram of Vaughan's 1985 "Soul to Soul" touring guitar rig is well-documented. The diagram is based on multiple interviews conducted with long-time SRV guitar tech and effects builder, Cesar Diaz.
Vaughan throughout his career revived blues rock and paved the way for many other artists. Vaughan's work continues to influence numerous blues, rock and alternative artists, including John Mayer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike McCready, Albert Cummings, Los Lonely Boys and Chris Duarte, among others. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Vaughan as "the leading light in American blues" and developed "a uniquely eclectic and fiery style that sounded like no other guitarist, regardless of genre". In 1983, Variety magazine called Vaughan the "guitar hero of the present era".
In the months that followed his death, Vaughan sold over 5.5 million albums in the United States. On September 25, 1990, Epic released Family Style, with several promotional singles and videos. In November 1990, CMV Enterprises released Pride and Joy, a collection of eight Double Trouble music videos. Sony signed a deal with the Vaughan estate to obtain control of his back catalog, as well as permission to release albums with previously unreleased material and new collections of released work. On October 29, 1991, The Sky Is Crying was released as Vaughan's first posthumous album with Double Trouble, and featured studio recordings from 1984–1985. Other compilations, live albums, and films have also been released since his death.
On October 3, 1991, former Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed "Stevie Ray Vaughan Commemoration Day", during which a memorial concert was held at the Texas Theatre. In 1993, a memorial statue of Vaughan was unveiled on Auditorium Shores and is the first public monument of a musician in Austin. In September 1994, a Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Run for Recovery was held in Dallas; the event was a benefit for the Ethel Daniels Foundation, established to help those in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction who cannot afford treatment. In 2005, Martha Vaughan established the Stevie Ray Vaughan Scholarship, awarded by W.E. Greiner Middle School to students who intend to attend college and pursue the arts as a profession.
Awards and honors
Vaughan won five W. C. Handy Awards and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1985, he was named an honorary admiral in the Texas Navy. Vaughan had a single number-one hit on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for the song "Crossfire". His album sales in the US stand at over 15 million units. Family Style, released shortly after his death, won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and became his best-selling, non-Double Trouble studio album with over a million shipments in the US. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked him seventh among the "100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time". He also became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Guitar World Magazine ranked him as no. 8 in its list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists.
- Texas Flood (1983)
- Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984)
- Soul to Soul (1985)
- In Step (1989)
- Family Style (with Jimmie Vaughan) (1990), produced by Nile Rodgers
- The Sky Is Crying (1991)
- 1980s in music
- List of blues rock performers
- List of electric blues musicians
- List of guitarists
- List of Texas blues musicians
- Music of Austin
- Music of Texas
- Kitts, Jeff (1997). Guitar World Presents Stevie Ray Vaughan. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0-7935-8080-4.
- Gregory, Hugh (2003). Roadhouse Blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Texas R&B. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0-87930-747-9.
- Leigh, Keri (1993). Stevie Ray: Soul to Soul. Taylor Trade. ISBN 978-0-87833-838-2.
- Dickerson, James (2004). The Fabulous Vaughan Brothers: Jimmie and Stevie Ray. Taylor Trade. ISBN 978-1-58979-116-9.
- Official website
- Stevie Ray Vaughan at AllMusic
- Stevie Ray Vaughan discography at Discogs
- Stevie Ray Vaughan's channel on YouTube
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