1954 – Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, widely ranked up there with Hendrix, is born in Dallas.
Stephen “Stevie” Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American blues-rock guitarist, whose broad appeal made him an influential electric blues guitarist. and Classic Rock Magazine ranked him #3 in their list of the 100 Wildest Guitar Heroes in 2007.
Life and career
Vaughan was born on October 3, 1954, in Dallas, Texas, and was raised in the city’s Oak Cliff neighborhood. Neither of his parents had any strong musical talent but were avid music fans. They would take Vaughan and his older brother Jimmie to concerts to see Fats Domino, Johnny Williamson III, Jimmy Reed, and Bob Wills.
Even though Vaughan initially wanted to play the drums as his primary instrument, Michael Quinn gave him a guitar when he was seven years old. Vaughan’s brother, Jimmie Vaughan, gave him his first guitar lessons. Vaughan was later quoted in Guitar Player as saying, “My brother Jimmie actually was one of the biggest influences on my playing. He really was the reason I started to play, watching him and seeing what could be done.” He played entirely by ear and never learned how to read sheet music. By the time he was thirteen years old he was playing in clubs where he met many of his blues idols. A few years later he dropped out of Justin F. Kimball High School in Oak Cliff and moved to Austin to pursue music. Vaughan’s talent caught the attention of guitarist Johnny Winter and blues-club owner Clifford Antone.
During the early 1970s Vaughan played the Austin bar and club scene with the Cobras. After the Cobras broke up, in 1975 he started Triple Threat, which in 1978 became Double Trouble with Vaughan as lead singer. From Austin, their success spread throughout Texas.
In the early 1980s, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger saw Vaughan and Double Trouble playing at a club, and invited them to play at a private party in New York. This led to their acquaintance with producer Jerry Wexler, who managed to get them their first big break performing at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival. As a result they were able to meet Jackson Browne, who gave the band free time in his Los Angeles studio, and David Bowie, who had Vaughan play lead guitar on his next album, Let’s Dance.
Soon a record contract with Epic followed, as well as their first album release in 1983, the successful Texas Flood, which charted at number 38 and gained positive reviews. After a successful tour, their second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, charted at number 31 in 1984 and went gold in 1985. Their third album, Soul to Soul, charted at number 34 in 1985.
Drugs and alcoholism
Drug addiction and alcoholism took a toll on Vaughan by mid-1986. Cocaine and Crown Royal whiskey were his drugs of choice. Vaughan would dissolve cocaine in his whiskey for a morning “pick-me-up”. Doctors later discovered that this morning ritual was causing severe ulcerations of the stomach lining. Nevertheless, he carried on and put out Live Alive in 1986 and did a concert tour in America in 1987. After becoming acutely ill in Germany while on tour, Vaughan managed to struggle through three more shows, but was soon admitted into a hospital in London. Dr. Victor Bloom, who had helped Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend with their addictions, told Vaughan that if he had not come to the hospital he would have died in a month. After a struggle to get sober in London, he then flew to Atlanta, Georgia, to a rehabilitation center. He eventually recovered fully from his addictions in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Upon his return from rehab, Vaughan worked with a number of artists including Dick Dale (making a cameo appearance as himself performing a duet of “Pipeline” with Dale in the movie Back to the Beach, which was then released as a single), Jennifer Warnes, and Stevie Wonder (playing “Superstition” on the MTV special Stevie Wonder’s Characters).
In 1988, Vaughan continued to tour with Double Trouble throughout Scandinavia and performed at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. as the band’s best work since Texas Flood. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Vaughan shared a headline tour with guitarist Jeff Beck in the fall of 1989. In his beloved Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Vaughan was presented with a proclamation from the mayor declaring November 26, 1989 “Stevie Ray Vaughan Day.”
On January 3, 1990, Vaughan gave a speech and addressed the Aquarius Chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. On January 30, Vaughan made his first appearance on MTV Unplugged in New York City. It was originally scheduled for Vaughan to do a closing jam with Joe Satriani, but Vaughan said he had to leave right away.
Vaughan had spoken two years earlier about wanting to help produce an album with his brother, Jimmie Vaughan. That time came in March 1990, when the Vaughan Brothers went to work at the Dallas Sound Lab, the same studio used to record Soul to Soul.
Around this time, Vaughan said that singing was becoming painful for him due to a condition he called “hamburger throat.” He received acupuncture to his neck, but still had to take cortisone shots to relieve the pain, which caused his face to swell.
On August 25 and August 26, 1990, Vaughan and Double Trouble finished the summer portion of the In Step Tour with shows at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, just outside of East Troy, Wisconsin. The show also featured Robert Cray & His Memphis Horns, and Eric Clapton, who played the closing set, also bringing all the musicians back onstage for an encore jam.
Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton recalls his last conversation with Vaughan backstage. He then remembers Vaughan saying he had to call his girlfriend, Janna Lapidus, in Chicago, before heading out the door to the helicopters, which had been arranged for flight (through Omni Flights) by Skip Rickert, Double Trouble’s tour manager.
The musicians had expected a long bus ride back to Chicago. However, Vaughan was informed by a member of Clapton’s crew that three seats were open on one of the helicopters returning to Chicago with Clapton’s crew, enough for Vaughan, his brother Jimmie, and Jimmie’s wife Connie. It turned out there was only one seat left; Vaughan requested it from his brother, who obliged. At 12:44 a.m. pilot Jeffrey Browne guided the helicopter off the ground. Moments after takeoff the helicopter crashed into a ski slope and all five on board were killed. Although the crash occurred only 0.6 miles from takeoff, it went unnoticed by those at the concert site.
The search for the wreckage began at 5:00 a.m., finally being located two hours later with the help of its locator beacon.
Chris Layton and Jimmie Vaughan did not find out about the crash until they returned to their motel in Chicago. The following morning Jimmie Vaughan was called to identify the body of his brother. The coroner’s report stated that the cause of death was exsanguination caused by severing of the aorta. The severance was caused by high deceleration during crash impact.
Stevie Ray Vaughan is interred in the Laurel Land Memorial Park, Dallas, Texas.
Posthumous events and recognition
Vaughan memorial at Lady Bird Lake, in Austin, Texas.
Vaughan memorial at Lady Bird Lake, in Austin, Texas.
September 1990 saw the release of Family Style.
The 1991 album The Sky Is Crying was the first of several posthumous Vaughan releases to achieve chart success. Jimmie Vaughan later co-wrote and recorded a song in tribute to his brother and other deceased blues guitarists, entitled “Six Strings Down”.
The 1991 album of Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw, was dedicated to him.
Many other artists recorded songs in remembrance of Vaughan, including Eric Johnson, Buddy Guy and Steve Vai (“Jibboom” on the album The Ultra Zone, 1999).
In 1991, Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, Vaughan’s birthday, to be “Stevie Ray Vaughan Day.” An annual motorcycle ride and concert in Central Texas benefits the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund.
In 1992, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation released the Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster, which Vaughan had helped design. As of 2007, the model is still in production. In 2004, Fender also released a limited edition exact replica of “Number One”.
Stevie Wonder included a song on his 1995 live album Natural Wonder entitled “Stevie Ray Blues”. On the album, Wonder refers to the song as “Stevie Ray Vaughan Blues”.
Stephen King’s short story “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” concerns a small town called Rock and Roll Heaven that’s populated by late rock musicians, one of whom is Vaughan.
In 1994, the city of Austin erected the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake,( 30°15?47.1774?N 97°45?2.4228?W? / ?30.263104833, -97.750673) the site of a number of Vaughan’s concerts. It has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
In 2000, Stevie Ray Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
The last guitar that Vaughan played before his death is on display in the Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In November 2007, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation released a second tribute to Vaughan, an exact replica of his second beloved guitar: Lenny. This guitar was given to him by his wife Lennora (“Lenny”) on his 26th birthday and Vaughan was very fond of it. According to Fender, the original Lenny was a 1965 Strat that he saw in the window of a pawn shop that he was unable to afford. The guitar is sold with a strap, a case with Vaughan’s name embroidered in the fabric lining, a number of brochures and memorabilia and a leather bound certificate of authenticity.
Also in November 2007, Sony BMG, Epic Records, and Legacy Records released the CD Stevie Ray Vaughan & Friends: Solos, Sessions & Encores.
Stevie Ray Vaughan will become eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 2008, residents voted to rename Dallas’ Industrial Boulevard, with Vaughan’s name being one of the finalists alongside Stanley Marcus, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Cesar Chavez.
Musical influences and style
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Vaughan’s blues style was strongly influenced by many blues guitarists. Foremost among them were Albert King, who dubbed himself Stevie’s “godfather,” Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix. The song “Rude Mood” is a direct derivative (according to Vaughan himself) of a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune called “Lightning Sky Hop.” He was also strongly influenced by early blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack, who, according to Vaughan, “really taught me to play guitar from the heart” (Davis, History of the Blues, DaCapo 2003, p. 246). Vaughan, who had idolized Mack since childhood, produced and played on Mack’s 1985 Alligator Records album Strike Like Lightning and covered two Mack tunes from the early 1960s, “Wham!” and “Chicken-Pickin'” (which Vaughan renamed “Scuttle-Buttin’,”) as well as a Mack tune from the 1980s, “If You Have To Know.” Vaughan’s brother Jimmie Vaughan has stated that Johnny “Guitar” Watson was the guitarist he and Stevie studied the most.
Vaughan’s sound and playing style, which often incorporated simultaneous lead and rhythm parts, drew comparisons to Hendrix; Vaughan covered several Hendrix tunes on his studio albums and in performance, such as “Little Wing,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” and “Third Stone from the Sun.” Some blues greats say that “Vaughan can play Hendrix better than Hendrix himself.” He was also heavily influenced by Freddie King, another Texas bluesman, mainly in the use of tone and attack; King’s heavy vibrato can clearly be heard in Vaughan’s playing. Another stylistic influence was Albert Collins. By utilizing his index finger as a pick a la Albert Collins, he was able to coax various tonal nuances from his amplifiers.
Known for his warm blues-rock tone, Vaughan characteristically used very heavy strings on his guitar ranging from 13 to 56-gauge sets to give a fuller sound which he tuned down a half-step to the key of E flat.
Musicians such as John Mayer, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Colin James, Jonny Lang, Los Lonely Boys, Mike McCready, Eric Johnson, John Petrucci, and Doyle Bramhall II have cited Vaughan as an influence.
Guitars, amplifiers, effects, etc.
Stevie Ray Vaughan playing his customized Stratocaster with his initials emblazoned on the pickguard.
Stevie Ray Vaughan playing his customized Stratocaster with his initials emblazoned on the pickguard.
See also: SRV guitars
Vaughan is recognized mainly for using Fender Stratocasters that were strung with heavy strings, and for tuning his guitars a half-step down from standard pitch (also known as E-flat).
In his estate, Vaughan had a total of 34 guitars that he used throughout his career. For more information, see SRV guitars.
Stevie always used vacuum tube amplifiers that he set at loud volumes. This allowed the amps to go into “overdrive,” usually power amp distortion, for his well-known clean, but loud tone. For more information on his configurations and customizations to his amps, see SRV amps.
Vaughan’s primary effects were an Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Vox wah-wah, which had been given to his brother, Jimmie. The wah wah pedal was made famous by artists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He started out with a TS-808 Tube Screamer, then switched to a TS-9 in 1982-1988, and a TS-10 Classic in 1988-1990.
He usually set the Tube Screamer with the “Drive” knob low, but tone and level high as a “boost” for leads.
Stevie used a Leslie-style speaker cabinet called a Fender Vibratone, but had a rotating styrofoam cone with 2 slots in the sides around a stationary speaker. This made the guitar sound like an organ, and can be heard on “Cold Shot” from Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
Vaughan briefly used a Univox Univibe in 1986, but preferred the effect given by the Vibratone.
A “Hot Cake” overdrive pedal was also briefly in his collection (similar to the Tube Screamer), as well as an Electro-Harmonix Hot Tubes overdrive pedal.
He also had a Dunlop Cry Baby wah-wah pedal before he got the Vox wah-wah.
The strings Stevie used didn’t necessarily have to be a particular brand name, but he is known for using GHS Nickel Rockers. He changed gauges around often, depending on the condition of his fingers.
String Gauges Material
1st .011″, .012″, or .013″ Plain steel
2nd .015″, .016″, or .017″ Plain steel
3rd .019″ or .020″ Plain steel
4th .028″ Nickel roundwound
5th .038″ Nickel roundwound
6th .054″, .056″, .058″, or .060″ Nickel roundwound
In the early 1980s, he would pick up Fender Mediums as “freebies” whenever he could. However, Stevie’s picks were custom-made “multi-color” equivalents of Fender Mediums, starting in 1984. He did try D’Addario Delrin Heavies (1.10 mm) in 1987. Stevie held his picks sideways.
* 1983 Best Traditional Blues Album for Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble)
* 1985 Best Traditional Blues Album for Blues Explosion (various artists)
* 1989 Best Traditional Blues Album for In Step (Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble)
* 1990 Best Contemporary Blues Album for In Step (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
* 1991 Best Contemporary Blues Album for Family Style (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan)
Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “D/FW” (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan)
* 1991 (Nomination) Best Traditional Blues Album for The Sky is Crying (Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble)
* 1993 Best Contemporary Blues Album for The Sky Is Crying (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Little Wing” (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
* 1983 Texas Flood
* 1984 Couldn’t Stand the Weather
* 1985 Soul to Soul
* 1989 In Step
* 1990 Family Style (with brother Jimmie Vaughan as The Vaughan Brothers)
* 1991 The Sky Is Crying (posthumous compilation)
* from 1980 In the Beginning
* from 1982 and 1985 Live at Montreux 1982 and 1985
* from 1983 In Session (with Albert King)
* from 1983 Live at the El Mocambo (video release)
* from 1983 and 1989 Live from Austin, Texas (video release)
* from 1984 Live at Carnegie Hall
* from 1984 Triple Trouble US tour (Archivio, 1991)
* from 1985 Live in Tokyo (video import release)
* from 1985 and 1986 Live Alive
* from 1987 The Forgotten Show Daytona Beach (Flashback World Productions, Flash 01.93.0196)
* 1995 Greatest Hits
* 1999 The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2
* 2000 Blues at Sunrise
* 2000 SRV (box set, with early recordings, rarities, hits, and live material)
* 2002 The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
* 2003 Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues – Stevie Ray Vaughan
* 2006 The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 1
* 2007 Solos, Sessions and Encores
* 1998 Lou Ann Barton with Rock Ola (Lou Ann Barton album)Sugar Coated Love
* 1983 Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
* 1984 Soulful Dress (Marcia Ball)
* 1986 Heartbeat (Don Johnson)
* 1987 Famous Blue Raincoat (Jennifer Warnes)
* 1990 Strike Like Lightning (Lonnie Mack)