When I was a teenager, I discovered the gripping brilliance that was Stevie Ray Vaughan, a legendary guitarist who rapidly became a permanent feature in my musical world. Known for his electrifying performances and his intriguing choice of outfits, notably that feather hat, Vaughan was a virtuoso like no other. The raw emotion and energy he drew from his Fender guitars, particularly his beloved Stratocaster, mesmerized me. I became consumed by his magical aura when I listened to his 1984 album, 'Couldn’t Stand the Weather,' courtesy of my BMG music subscription. I recall the distinctive flame design of his iconic Stratocaster, aptly named “Firestarter.” Vaughan’s unbridled talent and unabating passion for music catalyzed my love for the craft, inspiring me to take music seriously and even trickling into my audacious escapades of sneaking into concerts. Every strum, every riff, still resonates with me to this day, even after his tragic demise in a helicopter crash. Years later, before a gig opening for the Kentucky Headhunters, I met Steve Wilson, who worked for Vaughan in his twilight years. Those meetings nurtured a deeper appreciation for Vaughan, reminding me that his influence is still pertinent. I end this tongue-in-cheek yarn with sincere recommendations for Vaughan’s music and a heartfelt RIP for the legendary guitarist whose impact continues to vibrate through generations of musicians, like myself.
My Journey as a Devoted Fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan
While this may sound quite clichéd, Stevie Ray Vaughan was a definitive life-changer for me; his music was truly a harbinger of transformation. Like many guitarists you'd come across, Vaughan holds a special place in my heart. My journey with his music began as a teenager when I signed up for BMG music, and his album from 1984, 'Couldn’t Stand the Weather' serendipitously ended up in my hands. It's an understatement to say that it became my favorite. The remarkable guitar solos in that album defined the depth of passion I would later cultivate for music and the guitar. Witnessing Vaughan and Double Trouble live took this passion to an unprecedented level. I attended multiple shows by Vaughan, even when it meant breaking household rules and sneaking to concerts. Despite the untimely end of Vaughan’s life in a chilling helicopter crash, his legacy has been etched into my life. Years later, the wheel of fortune allowed me to open for the Kentucky Headhunters and meet Steve Wilson, an associate of the dearly departed Vaughan in his later years. Now, as I look back, I uphold Stevie Ray Vaughan's music as a beacon for any aspiring musician. His music remains alive, echoing through the chords and notes of my guitar. Remembering Vaughan, I continue, passionately narrating my story about the man who changed my life.
In my teenage years, I was completely engrossed in playing guitar with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Rush, Frank Zappa, among others, inspiring me. While I enjoyed the guitar immensely, I still hadn't fully committed myself to it as there wasn't a significant driving force - until 1985. That year, through BMG music, I discovered the rousing tunes of Stevie Ray Vaughan's 1984 album, 'Couldn't Stand the Weather'. Instantly, I was captivated; not only had I found my new favorite music, but I now had a concrete direction. Vaughan's concert that followed redefined my perception of music and nudged me to consider it professionally. Despite the occasional parental disapproval, I found my way into Vaughan's concerts repeatedly, reinforcing my passion. Years later, the heart wrenching news of his untimely passing in a helicopter crash left me and countless others devastated. Regardless, Vaughan's impact endures to this day and it's reflected even in my most recent concerts, like opening for the Kentucky Headhunters, and meeting Steve Wilson, who had also associated with Vaughan later in his career. I strongly encourage everyone to embrace the brilliance of Vaughan's music, just as it shaped my life. A heartfelt tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, a legendary guitarist whose spirit resonates in every strum of my guitar.
During my teenage years, steeped in my pursuit of music, I took a chance and signed up for BMG music. For those unfamiliar, BMG music was essentially a gateway to a musical bonanza; you could select about half a dozen albums, either Vinyl or cassette (the dominant mediums back then), for nothing more than the cost of shipping. It was through this program that I laid my hands on the phenomenal 1984 album 'Couldn't Stand The Weather' by Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was instantly captivated by Vaughan's virtuosity with the guitar and, quite unexpectedly, found my favorite album. The electric experience of attending a Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble concert permanently imprinted upon me, shaping my musical ambitions and leading me to defy even my parents to follow my passion for music.
Back in my younger days, my process of album discovery involved a routine where I'd meet a predetermined purchase quota from BMG Music, and God, it was a treasure trove of surprises. One fine day, a couple weeks prior to my next quota, I was nonchalantly flipping through a guitar magazine when a picture caught my eye—it was of a man, hat as flamboyant as Zorro’s, shirtless with a fascinating bird tattoo, exuding a raw, animalistic charm while perspiring heavily—his name written underneath was Stevie Ray Vaughan. Intrigued, I dug deeper and found BMG offered Vaughan's album from the year before, the 1984 masterpiece 'Couldn't Stand the Weather'. Little did I know then, it would become my favorite album of his remarkable discography and a portal to my deeply entrenched fandom over the coming years for SRV and his band, Double Trouble. Quite a few times I even found myself sneaking into his concerts, yielding to the magnetic pull of his performances, unbeknownst to my deeply disapproving parents. When I later embarked on my journey in music, his influence was unmistakable in every note I played. Every encounter with his music revived the raw, heart-wrenching feeling of loss the tragic day of his untimely death in a helicopter crash. Yet, the silver lining amidst the sorrow was my eventual association with the Kentucky Headhunters, fulfilling a childhood dream of opening for them, and a chance meeting with Steve Wilson, who'd worked with SRV during the last years of his short yet legendary career. My journey with Vaughan’s music is far from over, leaving an indelible mark on me and countless others who basked in the rich legacy of his sound. Here’s to you, Stevie Ray Vaughan—your legend will forever echo through the corridors of music history.
Getting Stevies First Albums in the ’80s
When it arrived in the mail I put it on the Turntable and from the very first track “Scuttlebuttin” an instrumental I had to stop for a minute. It literally scared me. I needed a minute because what I was hearing was otherworldly. I had no Idea a guitar could sound like that, much less any human being could play that fast and still be soulful. It was sort of like seeing a UFO. Truly a “whoah, hold up I need a minute”.
I put the needle back on and took the ride, studying the Artwork of the record, especially the fact it was a double exposure of a man standing in front of a Tornado. By the time the last track of side one was done “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) a cover of Hendrix and arguably superior I thought “We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto” Again this was alarming, unsettling. I played that track a second go to make sure I really heard what I thought I did.
I personally think it’s one of the most intense things ever captured on record. Side 2 solidified that this man is a Tornado and can emote anything from scare the pants off you Rock to Smokey late-night Blues of “Tin Pan Alley” delicate but still intense or tackle Jazz with the same genius in “Stangs Swang”. As the Hank Ballard song on the next record said “And that ain’t all!:
The next week I was looking through the Columbus Dispatch and there is (or was) an ad..whichever “Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble” Veterans memorial Auditorium on Sept. 29, 1985. $12.50
This was to be my second concert ever and much like Cameron Crowes’s story in the film “Almost Famous” Mom took me and waited in the car for 3 hours. She later reflected after seeing Stevie on television she regretted not just buying a ticket too.
Vets were a generally sedate atmosphere at the average event. This night was far from it. SRV’s now touring on album 3 “Soul to Soul” and we had a Bonus in Blues Legend Johnny Copeland opening, stalking the stage like a gunfighter in a blue Leisure suit.
The Dispatch review the next day said he ALMOST stole the show. I would almost agree, but something Tells me the author wasn’t present for the entire gig. We, 4 young Hooligans, were If memory serves pretty far back if not THE back of the hall but it was a small enough venue it didn’t matter.
SRV with Double Trouble Starwood TN 1987
We were all new to Stevie so we didn’t know that this was “I’m putting cocaine in my whiskey” Stevie but his habits had not really come to be adverse to him yet. I have never in my lifetime felt energy flow through a room the way that night was, with the Exception of my Next concert a band Called Metallica with one Cliff Burton.
The set opened with “ScuttleButtin” and some radio interference coming through the amps, be it Military or Police traffic. It didn’t break his concentration and was resolved quickly The Material was mostly centered that night from “Weather “ and the new Album “Soul to Soul” which I purchased a few days after this show. The Band had added in Keyboardist Reese Wynans so there were some longer jams back and forth but never a question on who the Boss was. “Look at Little Sister” The aforementioned Hank Ballard song was a highlight.” Looking out the window” Took things back to a Buddy Holly vibe and the same as you can find on the “Live at Montreux” DVD Johnny Copeland was a guest on a blistering variant of “ Tin Pan Alley”. Copeland ad-libbing verses and the entire band being open to whatever direction the tune went.
SRV Playing “Life Without You Live” in Nashville Amphitheatre
The stripped-down soulful “Life without you” was incredible. Every song that night was just a relentless Masterpiece. Then came the end of the show. “Voodoo Child” into “Third Stone from the sun” closing out with Hendrix again equal if not topping the Man who gave birth to those songs. During “Third Stone” I thought the strap came off accidentally.
That would be wrong. His “First wife” Stratocaster was thrown down and walked on and rode upon and slammed around by the whammy bar in a display of sonic anarchy to achieve the sounds of Psychedelic Mayhem.
Thank you good night. Jaws dropping, screaming, and what came next was what my cousin and I refer to as “The one-man riot.” Everyone was so blown away and the intense excitement was so high that about all but one of us were Maintaining pretty well. The one guy who couldn’t hold it in let it rips.
He was jumping chairs like a frog on a trampoline toward the exit and Lobby. While I’m buying my tour shirt he picks up this large Brass standing ashtray of significant weight and he was so short he only had a foot more height than it, he Hurles it through a plate-glass window. And is running like mad security couldn’t even begin to catch up.
There’s a great significance to this little riot, as the next time we saw Stevie there at Vets he was aware of what had happened a couple of years prior. So he did the same intensity of a show, but after tearing, the roof off he stayed on stage a played a piece which in time turned out to be “Riveria Paradise” to make sure everybody was cooled down a bit.
I went to school picture day the next morning wearing my tour shirt and an “I know something you don’t know” grin. Years later I was up for consideration to play with Double Trouble, and they got a good laugh outta that photo.
John Mayer got the gig. Understandable as they were a “Band for hire” Mayer had the name and following. No Brainer there. That old tour shirt of mine now lives in the SRV Museum in Dallas as I gave it to Craig Hopkins after a phone talk and Craig said it was the last of 2 shirts no one would turn loose of to complete the full collection. I turned it over to him with pleasure.
From that first gig, I went to every show I could. After Being told I was not allowed to go to any Rock concert ever until I was 18 after the Metallica/Ozzy 86 tour Parental Hoopla. I worked my way around it by saying “Hey dad Let’s go see Stevie and Gregg Allman together.” He bit.
I made him wear a Harley Davidson T-shirt so he didn’t look like a Lawyer. We Caught June 23rd, 1987 at Riverbend. He said after the show Stevie Ray was the hardest working musician he’d ever seen, but he didn’t know about the Ostrich Feather in the hat and white high-top tennis shoes with a blue suit.
On Aug 13 just weeks Later I got to witness yet another show at the Ohio State Fair, Stevie Gluing his fingertips back on with Super Glue and Mom meeting me after the Grandstand exit holding a tour shirt she bought me, well because that was mom.
We did have one show at some point in the mix back at Vets Memorial where a lady allowed us upfront as whoever bought the front row seats never made it and we got to look him dead in the eyes and he came over the left side and Played a few minutes to us.
My cousin says “Stevie’s looking Spry, Sporting a shave!” My final show fell in my original hometown of Grove City, on July 14, 1990, with Joe Cocker. I recall Mark Chatfield (The GODZ) walking past us to the front of the stage doing the “we’re not worthy” and then returning to his seat.
12 shows Later after a 2 night run with Clapton, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, and Buddy Guy we Lost Stevie Ray Vaughan at Alpine Valley, in Wisconsin. It was to be Clapton on the helicopter but Stevie had a desire to get back to the hotel and settle in to call his sweetheart Janna. It was Foggy and next to impossible to see.
There should not have been a flight but they went for it, crashing into the side of a man-made ski Hill moments after take off. There were the stories of that last night and recordings have surfaced to prove it was His night. The Supernatural playing that night by Stevie is documented. He always tried to approach his attack even in the drug and booze days as if every night was his last.
Sadly this night was. Stevie was his last. Sober and Happy and without being too preachy had become a lighthouse for those of us who had addictions. “Life without you” every night was a call to action to take care of ourselves and those who needed us. He was I suppose an evangelist of Love. Not a bad thing to be remembered for.
I learned over the 5 years how to play like him and feel the music like him. He made my decision on that first concert I was to be a musician, not just a player who dabbled in it. That education came in very Handy because the night or so after SRV’s death I ended up Playing the Memorial for him at The Newport Musical Hall with Columbus, Ohio’s other Legend Frank Harrison. This was a Fluke and accident because someone wrongly announced via the Radio that if you could play show up with your Guitar. Frank went ahead and allowed me up. Not exactly pleased at first until he nodded for me to solo on “The Sky is Crying”.
I had a Flying V ala Albert King at the time and was wearing a Purple tie Dye with a Windowpane on it. The shirt was appropriate as I was also on
L.S.D. I did not know I would be treading those Boards until after I took it.
That V ROARED out almost Playing itself. Frank Said “Do another” and I cut loose again and he finally smiled and kept me up another couple of songs. He and I have been friends since. That’s the thing, music brings people together. Especially Stevie’s Music.
Eventually, I got in a rut because as Buddy Guy stated “Aint no more Stevie Ray Vaughan”.I had to break out of just being able to imitate, and as told before that’s where Link Wray came into my experience of growth. However, I owe my biggest debt of inspiration to SRV.
I lived and breathed that music. So much so I eventually had to step away. Now I go back to it like some folks treat fine wine. Every so often, so it’s still a touchstone.
A few years back I had the shock of my life. I was asked how I’d like to make a nice bit of cash Opening for the Kentucky Headhunters to a Fairground fest crowd. I said “duh” yes that’s beyond cool.
Well it got even cooler, I arrived and was meeting up with the Young Brothers, and my friend the organizer, and promoter walked me over to the soundboard and said: “Jimmy this is Steve Wilson, He worked for Stevie in the later years.”
We had plenty to talk about, one thing in the conversation was the infamous scooter. I told Steve a Friend of mine had snuck in early at a gig once and as he jumped the wall he was run over by Stevie. Stevie stops and lends him a hand back on his feet and genuinely concerned asks “Man you ok? My friend replied, “I don’t care if I’m ok or not you are Stevie Ray Vaughan!”
Steve lost it and after we got done almost crying in Laughter he said: “I had to break down and ask him if that thing was gonna put us all out of a job, I mean you break an arm we are done for months”.
I also learned about Stevie’s only vice in the last years. Steve said “Chocoholic!, He’d have Kit Kat bars or something all the time, and a good joke was to shake your hand so you had Chocolate on YOU too, then Laugh at ya.”
You can’t buy or dream up special moments in life, you just have to be there at the right time.
Voodoo Chile Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray was one man who encapsulated so many qualities, beyond his music.
Like most people, I never met him, but he felt like a family member and the loss was that deep. He gave this world such Joy and gifts by his life. I often will revisit the songs, my faves are anything depending on the time but “Tin Pan Alley” “Change it” “Things that I used to Do” and “Aint gonna give up on love” all take me right back to those feelings.
Stevie Ray Film Documentary the formative years
Before we finish we have included this music video documentary on his formative years SRV’s rise as a Texas Bluesman.
If you are Looking for something really cool that often gets overlooked. Pick up the “Live at Carnegie Hall” It’s just extra special. He shook the world, now he shakes the Heavens probably playing a golden Stratocaster.
R.I.P SRV Oct 3. 1954- August 27, 1990