Saturday, May 5, 2012

The #6 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Stevie Ray Vaughan

At #6, arguably the best blues-rock guitarist of all-time:
#6:  Stevie Ray Vaughan, Double Trouble, solo
26 years as an active guitarist
(Some of Stevie's best solos)

Stephen Ray "Stevie" Vaughan was born October 3, 1954 in Dallas, Texas.  Vaughan became one of the great blues rock musicians, incorporating many musical styles including blues, jazz, rock and ballads.

After watching brother Jimmie play guitar, Stevie became interested in learning and received a toy guitar at age seven.  Vaughan began playing songs by the B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Mack, Jimmy Reed and the Nightcaps.  Stevie began performing in groups at the age of 10, playing bass in Jimmie's band, Texas Storm, before forming his own group, Blackbird.

Vaughan went to Justin F. Kimball High School but failed music theory.  Vaughan and Blackbird moved to Austin, Texas when Stevie was 17.  In December, 1972, Blackbird renamed themselves Krackerjack.  Two months later, Vaughan joined Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers.  The Nightcrawlers recorded an album but when Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, suggested adding horns to the album, the project was shelved.  The group performed for a year before breaking up.  The album was eventually released in 2006.

Vaughan briefly attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas but quit to rehearse.  In 1975, Vaughan joined Paul Ray and the Cobras, which appeared weekly at the Soap Creek Saloon.  After two years, Vaughan formed the band, Triple Threat Revue, that became known as Double Trouble.  Double Trouble included bassist Tommy Shannon, who had played with Vaughan in Krackerjack, as well as vocalist Chris Layton.  

People began noticing Double Trouble, and especially their skilled guitarist.  The group landed an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, which led to a recording contract with Epic Records.  The group released the album Texas Flood in 1983, which included "Pride and Joy" and "Love Struck Baby".  Vaughan played on David Bowie's one big-selling album, Let's Dance. While Double Trouble did well with its debut album, Vaughan became addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Vaughan continued to perform, and Double Trouble opened 17 shows for the Moody Blues in the fall of 1983.  At the end of the year, the group taped a performance for the television show, Austin City Limits.  Texas Flood was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording and "Rude Mood" was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Double Trouble released Couldn't Stand the Weather in 1984 and performed a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Proceeds benefited work in leukemia and cancer research by the T.J. Martell Foundation.  The group then toured Australia and New Zealand and Vaughan won W.C. Handy Awards for Entertainer of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year.  

In 1985, Vaughan performed "The Star Spangled Banner" on opening day of the Major League Baseball season at the Houston Astrodome.  Double Trouble released the album Soul to Soul, and two singles--"Change It" and "Look at Little Sister" were popular on Mainstream Rock radio stations.  Blues Explosion won the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Performance while the song "Voodoo Chile" was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.  

In 1986, Stevie performed along with Jimmie Vaughan's group, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, during a tour of Australia and New Zealand.  Double Trouble then toured the United States and three concerts in Austin and Dallas, Texas were recorded.  Those shows, along with the group's performance at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, were released as the album Live Alive.  Double Trouble was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Say What!".

By this time, however, Vaughan's dependency on alcohol and cocaine spiraled into a life-threatening situation.  The drug use left hundreds of small cuts in the stomach lining.  While doing a tour of Europe, Vaughan suffered near-death dehydration after years of substance abuse and he was hospitalized in Ludwigshafen, Germany. 

Upon his release from the hospital, Vaughan checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta, Georgia.  His recovery was complete and Vaughan began living a more spiritual lifestyle.  Double Trouble released the album In Step in 1989, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Performance.  In January, 1990, Vaughan gave a stirring speech at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Stevie and Jimmie combined for the album Family Style in 1990.  In August, Double Trouble opened for Eric Clapton for two shows in East Troy, Wisconsin.  In the second show, Vaughan jammed with Clapton, Buddy Guy, brother Jimmie and Robert Cray.  After the show, Vaughan was killed when his helicopter crashed into the side of a ski hill on August 27, 1990.

At Vaughan's memorial at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Reverend Barry Bailey of the United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, opened the service with these 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." Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt sang "Amazing Grace" at the service.

Vaughan had fire, passion and soul in his guitar playing.  He exhibited immense drive and improvisation and no one could replicate his tone.  There's no better credit to someone than what others say about you:

Jeff Beck: I was just amazed; he could make me rediscover the blues every night. Stevie's the American apple pie blues guitarist par excellence. He's American and a southern boy; he had all the credentials to be top of the heap, and he was.
Eric Clapton:  I don't think anyone has commanded my respect more, to this day. The first time I heard Stevie Ray, I thought, "Whoever this is, he is going to shake the world." I was in my car and I remember thinking, I have to find out, before the day is over, who that guitar player is. That doesn't happen to me very often, that I get that way about listening to music. I mean, about three or four times in my life I've felt that way.  It's going to be a long time before anyone that brilliant will come along again.  I didn't get to see or hear Stevie play near often enough, but every time I did I got chills and knew I was in the presence of greatness .He seemed to be an open channel and music just flowed through him. It never seemed to dry up.

Robert Cray:  Stevie had this immense power and drive and passion in his playing, where it's like, "If you don't believe what I'm tellin' ya, I'll tell ya just a little bit more. Listen to this! You still don't believe it ? Here's a little bit more!" He could just keep going on and on, just talking to you. It was great.  I know that nobody will ever forget him. I think that he took what he learned from the blues and took it to another level. He incorporated a lot of the good things in a lot of different guitar players, like Hendrix, and added it to other things that he learned. The things I hear out of Stevie are the power and the passion. ... for a long time coming there's going to be a lot of frustrated guitar players trying to pick up on Stevie's stuff.

Buddy Guy:  Music is handed down to the next generation. And he wasn't just some white kid  saying,'I got it.' He told the truth.'I got this from Buddy Guy or Albert Collins,' or whoever he wanted to talk about. That was some of his greatness. All of us have a certain God-gifted talent. Blues was locked out with a skeleton key, but Stevie was the type of person where they gave this guy the key, he opened the door, and threw the damn key away.  Stevie is the best friend I ever had, the best guitarist I ever heard, and the best person anyone will ever want to know. He will be missed a lot.

John Lee Hooker:  He's one of the greatest blues musicians that ever picked up a guitar. 

Eric Johnson:  He was very excited about music and he always played with a lot of emotion. I admired the strong passion he brought to it.  It was a gift to have had those musical moments with him. Later that night when he took the stage, he played with a power and excitement that made time stand still. His guitar sound was magnificent as it emotionally reverberated through the coliseum, powered by some lightning force from beyond the physical realm.  It is said that an artist's talent can be largely judged or evaluated on the impact that they have on others, and the number of those who, in the artist's aftermath continue to emulate as well as carry on their unique style.  In this light, Stevie is among the greatest, for countless musicians have attempted the nuances of his style and aspired to the persona of his playing.  The flame continues to burn as we listen to the treasure of the glorious recipe he so eloquently created.

B.B. King:  Stevie had many ways of showing you that he had not only talent, but he also had a feeling for playing the blues. He was good with it, his execution and his hands. He seemed to be flawless, the way he moved with it. I don't think he was aware of how well he played. I'm pretty sure he never realized how well he played.  A lot of us knew he was good then, but the impact never hit us really big until after we lost him.  The fact is that he affected the way blues will be played and heard forever.

Bonnie Raitt:  Word of his genius got out.  He was the real deal, and for his kindness and generosity, his passion and treacherous talent. I'll be forever grateful. To me Stevie Ray Vaughan was the greatest blues guitarist. For fire and passion and soulfulness, he was untouchable.  He was scary to those of us who watched him. But he was so humble and gracious as a friend, and he wasn't stuck up about his playing.  The most lasting memory of Stevie was his passion... I don't think there is anyone who tears into a song like the way he did. I think Stevie Ray was coming from some place so deep and so beautiful that there's no one you can compare to him.

Joe Satriani:  To be around him was to be in the presence of this enormous musical energy that was combined with a very humble, soft-spoken guy.  But when he played, it was a roar. He just roared like a lion when he played guitar.  Very few people actually care that much about what they're playing, but he was just so totally into it.  I think what I'll really remember is the way he stood, you know? Sweat-drenched, with his eyes closed, grabbing some incredible note.  Someone has to be totally absorbed to play like that.  To play that intensely sort of wreaks havoc on the body - it's sort of a painful ecstasy.  He played the blues, you know?  I guess I'll remember that most of all.

Steve Vai:  His playing reached out to you. He wasn't so concerned with technique and flash, but at the same time, he had it by the truckload.  He never let technique rule his heart; he always played directly what was on his mind.  You can hear a lot of his influences in his playing, but by the same token, he rolled it into one unique guy.  He was one of the few musicians who could really pick a lane and drive.  You can see his legacy in the inspired guitar playing in the world. It definitively had its impact. Sometimes players come along that are just so stunningly technical that they dazzle, and then you have players that come along that with their musicianship, they're great songwriters, and they pretty much inspire a person by their sense of melody.  But Stevie Ray Vaughan could roll it all into a very well-balanced package.

Vaughan's music sold over 5.5 million albums in the United States in the months following his death. In 1991, the posthumous album, The Sky Is Crying, was released, which featured recordings made in 1984 and 1985.  Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, 1991 as "Stevie Ray Vaughan Commemoration Day".  A statue of Vaughan was unveiled on Auditorium Shores.  

Vaughan was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Django Reinhardt, Lonnie Mack, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters.  Vaughan developed his use of tremolo picking and vibrato from Mack and acknowledged that Mack "taught me to play guitar from the heart".

Vaughan preferred the Fender Stratocaster, his favorite being a 1963 model.  The beat up guitar, which Stevie nicknamed "Number One", actually had a Fender 1962 rosewood neck.  It was fitted with a left-handed vibrato system.  Vaughan used the Strat in live performances, playing with heavy strings and tuning a half-step below standard tuning.  "Lenny" was Stevie's red, maple neck Fender Strat that was either a 1963 or 64 model.  Vaughan also played several other Strats, a 1958 Gibson, a Gibson Flying V, a Hamilton Lurktamer, the National Duolian acoustic,the Epiphone Riviera and a Guild Jumbo 12-string acoustic.

Vaughan helped revive vintage amplifiers and effects.  Stevie used two Fender Vibroverbs, helping him to achieve his overdriven sound.  He often used other amps in combination, including black-face Fender Super Reverb Combos, a Fender Bassman, 1962 Fender Twin Reverbs, 1964 Fender Vibroverbs as well as Marshall Major 200-watt heads with 8x12" and 4x15" cabinets, aDumble Steel String Singer head and a Music Man 2x12 combo amp. 

Stevie Ray used the Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Vox V847 wah-wah pedal extensively, occasionally using a Fender Vibraphone and a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face as well.  Vaughan also used the Diaz Texas Square Face Fuzz, the Diaz Texas Ranger Treble Boost, the Tychnobrahe Octavis, the MXR M-144 Loop Selector.

Vaughan's work has influenced countless blues, rock and alternative artists, including John Mayer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Los Lonely Boys.  In 1983, Variety magazine called Vaughan "the guitar hero of the present era".  
Vaughan's solo at the Mocambo in 1983

Vaughan was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000.  He has sold 15 million albums.  Family Style, the album Stevie did with brother Jimmy, won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and "D/FW" won for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.  Posthumously, the album The Sky Is Crying won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and "Little Wing" won for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1993.  All told, Vaughan won six Grammy awards out of 12 nominations.

The man played the guitar with everything he had.  For his speed, his technique, his great solos, his passion, his sense of timing and melody, and his numerous achievements, Stevie Ray Vaughan ranks #6 for the Rock Era*...

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