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Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer, and one of the most influential guitarists in the blues revival of the 1980s. The Dallas, Texas born Vaughan began playing guitar at age seven inspired by his older brother Jimmie. After dropping out of high school Vaughan moved to Austin, Texas gigging with several bands prior to forming his own group Triple Threat Revue he later renamed Double Trouble taking the name from an Otis Bush song. Vaughan gained fame after his 1982 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival and his debut album Texas Flood became a commercial success selling more than half a million copies. He died in a helicopter crash in 1990 a month prior to his 36th birthday.
Vaughan received several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. He won a total of six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards and was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked him as the 12th greatest guitarist of all time. In 2015 Vaughan and Double Trouble were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Vaughan’s music took root in blues, rock and jazz. Influences included such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters along with jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, and Kenny Burrell among others.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s introduction to music came about through his admiration for his three years older brother Jimmy who handed down a Sears purchased guitar to his younger sibling for his seventh birthday. Vaughan dedicated himself to learn to play by following along to songs by Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, as well as jazz guitarists including Kenny Burrell.
Eventually Vaughan acquired an electric guitar, another hand-me-down from brother Jimmy. After growing tired of the Dallas music scene, he dropped out of school and moved to Austin, Texas, which had more liberal and tolerant audiences.
By 1975 he had joined a six-piece band called Paul Ray and the Cobras and for the next two-and-a-half years, he earned a living performing weekly at a popular venues throughout Austin. Around this time his first songwriting efforts, “Dirty Pool” and “Crawlin” came to light. In addition to playing with the Cobras, Vaughan jammed with many of his influences including Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Albert King.
Vaughan continued to tour with the Cobras through much of 1977. Vaughan left the Cobras upon their decision to strive for a mainstream sound and formed the band Triple Threat became Double Trouble. With bassist Chris Layton and drummer Tommy Shannon on board and now adding his middle name “Ray” to his stage name Stevie Ray Vaughan and the band that he would play with the rest of his life was now complete.
Although popular in Texas at the time, Double Trouble failed to gain national attention. That all changed when a record producer recommended the band to organizers of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Double Trouble headlined the festival’s blues night with the performance captured and later released on DVD in September 2004.
Vaughan’s Montreux performance led to a telephone call from David Bowie inviting him to participate in the recording of his next studio album. That album turned out to be Let’s Dance with Vaughan playing guitar on six of the album’s eight songs including the title track and “China Girl.” The massively successful album became one of the top albums of 1983 revitalizing Bowie’s career and bringing national attention to Vaughan.
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 to the album’s groundbreaking success. Vaughan began rehearsals for the tour but contract negotiations broke down and he abandoned the tour prior to its opening date.
Instead Vaughan and 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 wife Lenny on their “love-struck day” Released in 1983, Texas Flood peaked at number 38 ultimately selling more than half a million copies.
By January 1984 Double Trouble began recording their second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather with John Hammond producing. These sessions saw Vaughan experimenting with other combinations of musicians including brother Jimmy who played rhythm guitar on the title track. Released in 1984 Couldn’t Stand the Weather rapidly outpaced the sales of its predecessor remaining on the charts for 38 weeks. Of note the album includes Vaughan’s cover of the Jimi Hendrix song, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” invoking the inevitable comparisons to Hendrix.
In March 1985, recording commenced for Double Trouble’s third studio album, Soul to Soul. As the sessions progressed, Vaughan became increasingly frustrated with his own lack of inspiration. Vaughan, who found it increasingly difficult to be able to play rhythm guitar parts and sing at the same time, wanted to add another dimension to the band, so he hired keyboardist Reese Wynans who permanently joined the band shortly thereafter. Released in September 1985 Soul to Soul eventually certified gold.
By 1986 Vaughan began recording Double Trouble’s fourth and final studio album In Step. Prior to the album’s completion Vaughan and Double Trouble appeared at a presidential inauguration party in Washington, D.C. for George H.W. Bush. In Step was released in 1989 becoming Vaughan’s most commercially successful album and his first to win a Grammy Award.
On Monday, August 27, 1990 Vaughan and members of Eric Clapton’s touring entourage boarded a helicopter in East Troy, Wisconsin for a flight to Chicago. The helicopter crashed into a nearby ski hill shortly after takeoff killing all aboard.
Vaughan’s funeral services were held on August 31, 1990, at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. An estimated 3,000 mourners were in attendance among those attending were ZZ Top, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, and Bonnie Raitt.
Stevie Ray Vaughan left a rich legacy. He revived blues rock and paved the way and influenced many of today’s artists including John Mayer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Los Lonely Boys and Gary Clark among others. In the months following his death Vaughan sold more than 5.5 million albums in America. In 1990 the album Family Style the LP the Vaughan brothers cut in Memphis, Tennessee.
Stevie Ray Vaughan Discography
Texas Flood (1983)
Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984)
Soul to Soul (1985)
In Step (1989)
Family Style (with Jimmy Vaughan) (1990)
The Sky is Crying (1991)
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays Stevie Ray Vaughan. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/