Stephen "Stevie" Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American guitarist, singer, songwriter and record producer. Often referred to by his initials SRV, Vaughan is best known as a legendary blues guitarist whose formidable achievements were acknowledged by the great Black blues guitarists who influenced him. Vaughan revived blues rock and paved the way for many other artists. Vaughan was a founding member and leader of Double Trouble. With drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, Vaughan ignited the blues revival of the 1980s. In a career spanning seven years, Vaughan and Double Trouble consistently sold out concerts while their albums frequently went gold.
Vaughan was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and briefly lived in Graham, Texas. The younger brother of Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie started playing guitar at the age of seven and soon after formed several bands that occasionally performed in local nightclubs. At age 17, he dropped out of high school and moved to Austin to pursue a career in music, joining groups such as Krackerjack, the Nightcrawlers, and the Cobras. In 1977, he formed Triple Threat Revue, a band that regularly performed around Austin and eventually evolved into Double Trouble. In 1982, Vaughan and Double Trouble performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, catching the attention of musicians David Bowie and Jackson Browne. Bowie asked Vaughan to play on his upcoming studio album Let's Dance and Browne offered the band free use of his personal studio in Los Angeles to record an album.
In March 1983, veteran record producer John Hammond Sr. of Epic Records signed Vaughan and Double Trouble and released their debut album, Texas Flood in June of that year. While successfully touring, the group released the albums, Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984) and Soul to Soul (1985), the latter of which featured keyboardist Reese Wynans. Although his career had progressed successfully, Vaughan checked into a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, Georgia to give up a cocaine and alcohol addiction and returned to touring with the band. In June 1989, they released In Step, which earned them a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Performance. On August 27, 1990, Vaughan died in a helicopter crash following a performance in East Troy, Wisconsin.
Vaughan derived his uniquely eclectic yet intense style from a variety of musical genres. He was influenced by blues musicians including Albert King, Freddie King, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters, as well as rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack. His guitar playing, for which he has received wide critical recognition, reflected the pentatonic blues scales. He ranked number seven on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists" and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year a memorial statue in his honor was erected in Austin's Auditorium Shores park. Vaughan is widely considered one of the greatest musicians to come from the state of Texas.
Life and career
Early years (1954–1971)
Stephen Ray Vaughan was born on October 3, 1954, at Methodist Hospital in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, as the younger brother of Jimmie Vaughan. His father, Jimmie Lee "Big Jim" Vaughan, was an asbestos worker whose job often forced the family to move to different cities, while his mother, Martha Jean (Cook) Vaughan, worked as a secretary. In 1961, they finally moved out of the Cockrell Hill area of Dallas and settled into a small house in Oak Cliff. Martha recalled their living situation: "My husband was an asbestos worker, you know, and we traveled around when there wasn't any work here in Dallas ... sometimes he would go and I would stay here. By that time the kids were in school, so I had to stay here." Jimmie also recalled: "It wasn't really a comfortable 'Leave It to Beaver' kind of a deal, you know ... moving all the time, and never really getting to know people. On the highway all the time, and going to school for two weeks here and three weeks here. It was the absolute perfect training for us to do what we did."
After trying to play the drums and saxophone, Vaughan received his first guitar for his seventh birthday: a plastic toy from Sears with a western motif. He recalled, "It had gut strings and it was one of them—not Gene Autry or a Roy Rogers—but it was made out of Masonite, with the little stencils on it, you know?" Among the first songs Vaughan learned were "Wine, Wine, Wine" and "Thunderbird" by The Nightcaps, a Dallas garage rock band, along with Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do". With no interest in formal music training, Vaughan studied by ear and played along to Jimmie's records by such blues musicians as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Albert King and B.B. King. In 1963, he purchased his first record, Lonnie Mack's "Wham!", after asking the record store clerk for the "wildest guitar record" they had; Mack soon became a prominent influence on Vaughan. Upon listening to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze", he also became another significant influence on Vaughan's style.
Devoted to the instrument, Martha described Vaughan was "pretty much a loner", saying that the guitar was "his life". He was regarded by Jimmie as shy, yet polite and nice: "He wasn't obnoxious. He was very nice, you know; he wasn't mean or anything. I mainly remember that he wanted to go everywhere; wherever I went, he wanted to go. And he always wanted to know what was going on, what we were doing, why we were doing it, and just real curious. We were just normal brothers. I would go first and then he would. I think it was normal; seemed normal to me." Spending most of his childhood in uncertainty, Vaughan described his early years as "hard times". He would fight with his father who, after having a few drinks, would often become violent. Jimmie concurred that Big Jim would "go off like a rocket" and filled their life at home with tension.
In 1965, Vaughan formed his first band, The Chantones, and performed at a local talent contest held at the Hill Theatre in Dallas on June 26, 1965, which was his first public performance. With only a drummer and vocalist, the ten-year-old Vaughan performed Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do", realizing midway that they were not familiar with the entire song. Although he was not receiving as much praise as his brother, Vaughan caught the attention of Jimmie's band mate, Doyle Bramhall, saying that Vaughan "had it from the get-go". Despite his parents' support, they expressed apprehension for Vaughan's career choice, and he decided to take a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, working for seventy cents an hour. After nearly falling into a barrel of hot grease when cleaning out a trash bin, Vaughan singled out music as his future. He attended Justin F. Kimball High School, where he failed a course in music theory, and described the school as "berserk". Vaughan would often arrive to school exhausted from late-night performances in nightclubs.
In September 1970, Vaughan was temporarily recruited into Cast of Thousands, a band that included future actor Stephen Tobolowsky. Formed in 1968, Cast of Thousands were one of five Dallas bands selected to record two songs for a compilation album, A New Hi. Following their recordings, Vaughan formed his own band called Blackbird that frequently performed at a club in Dallas named The Cellar, as well as other clubs around Dallas. Vaughan later claimed that the club was "the only place that would really let me do what I wanted to do, because nobody cared. A couple of times people would get pissed and start shooting at the stage. You ducked and kept playing. I played there from age 14 'til I was 18."
Early career in Austin (1972–1979)
Vaughan dropped out of Kimball High and followed older brother Jimmie to Austin, Texas on New Year's Eve in 1971. Upon arrival with his bandmates from Blackbird, Vaughan recalled that he lived in a club called Rolling Hills—which later became the Soap Creek Saloon—and slept on either the pool table, stage, or floor, though he also said that it was one of his favorite times. Vaughan further described the music scene in Austin: "Lots of people have gravitated here. Something's in the air here that makes you want to get on the stick and go. People are more open to let you play your music here." On December 13, 1972, Blackbird reformed as Krackerjack and included bassist, Tommy Shannon. According to Shannon, Vaughan parted ways with the group after the lead band member decided to wear make-up on stage.
Within two months, Vaughan joined Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers, which included drummer Doyle Bramhall. With the help of producer David Anderle, the Nightcrawlers recorded an album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood for A&M Records. Co-founder Jerry Moss was not happy with the results, and A&M shelved the project. Returning to Texas without Benno, the Nightcrawlers continued to perform in venues like Armadillo World Headquarters, only to break up a year later. In 2006, the A&M recordings were released by Blue Skunk Music.
Subsequent to the breakup of the Nightcrawlers, Vaughan joined guitarist Denny Freeman in Paul Ray and the Cobras, a group that appeared weekly at the Soap Creek Saloon. In early 1977, the band released two singles and were named "Band of the Year" in an Austin Sun reader's poll. During a month-long break from performances, Vaughan won the opportunity to participate in a jam session at Antone's with Albert King. Owner Clifford Antone witnessed the performance and concurred that the jam session was "the best I've ever saw Albert or the best I ever saw Stevie".
After two years of performances, Paul Ray was diagnosed with nodes on his throat, leaving the vocal duties to Vaughan during his absence. This prompted Vaughan to quit the Cobras and form a group called Triple Threat Revue, which included bass player W. C. Clark, Freddie "Pharoah" Walden on drums, and singer Lou Ann Barton. Paul Ray recalled: "When Stevie quit, he was real sweet about it. He came up to me at rehearsal and said, 'I'm thinking about getting my own band,' and I said, 'Man, you really should—you're a front man now. You don't need to be in somebody else's band.' I was happy for him." After Clark left to form his own band, he was replaced by Jackie Newhouse, and the group was renamed Double Trouble after a song by Otis Rush. Chris Layton replaced Walden after he quit the band in July 1978. Barton was later fired due to a drunken incident following a performance, and Double Trouble became a power trio. Tommy Shannon, who played with Vaughan in Krackerjack, replaced Newhouse after attending a Double Trouble performance in Houston.
Commercial breakout (1982–1986)
Double Trouble's reputation began to build, and a July 1982 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival brought them to the attention of record producer John H. Hammond, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. In 1983 Vaughan contributed to Bowie's album, Let's Dance; the album sold over three times as many copies as Bowie's previous best-seller. Vaughan was invited to join Bowie's band for the Serious Moonlight Tour, but Vaughan declined at the urging of his management. In March 1983, Double Trouble signed with Epic Records, a subsidiary of CBS Records. In June of the same year Epic remixed and released Texas Flood. The album spawned several singles, including "Pride and Joy", "Love Struck Baby", and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". In July 1983, Double Trouble performed at Toronto, Canada's El Mocambo club.
In the fall of 1983 Double Trouble opened 17 shows for The Moody Blues; the band received $5,000 per show, plus a bonus for successful ticket sales. In December of '83, Vaughan recorded a session including both audio and video with Albert King and also that same December 1983, Double Trouble performed for a taping of Austin City Limits; the show aired on February 28, 1984, and featured Jimmie's band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Producer, Terry Lickona, agreed that Vaughan's performance was "a combination of nervous, paranoid, and so insecure", saying that he had "zero self-confidence" and was "sweating big-time the whole night". Double Trouble also performed a sold-out show in New York City's Beacon Theatre, with Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger in attendance. By the end of 1983, Texas Flood received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording. "Rude Mood" was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
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.'
Comeback and final years (1987–1990)
Vaughan was urged by a doctor to check into Peachford Hospital, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta, to begin a full recovery. 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.
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.
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, ultimately 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. 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 9780793580804.
- Gregory, Hugh (2003). Roadhouse Blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Texas R&B. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780879307479.
- Leigh, Keri (1993). Stevie Ray: Soul to Soul. Taylor Trade. ISBN 9780878338382.
- Dickerson, James (2004). The Fabulous Vaughan Brothers: Jimmie and Stevie Ray. Taylor Trade. ISBN 9781589791169.
- Official website
- Stevie Ray Vaughan at AllMusic
- Stevie Ray Vaughan discography at Discogs
- Stevie Ray Vaughan's channel on YouTube
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Image from Discogs