Stephen “Stevie” Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was born in Texas. He was an American Blues Guitar Legend — an all time great.
I want to share this story about Stevie’s last show, from a guitarist who was there.
The Second Coming: Stevie Ray Vaughan
“The way I look at it is that if the next show we do is the last one I ever get to do, it sure would be a shame if I didn’t really try and give it all my best”
-Stevie Ray Vaughan
Back in the summer of 1990, I met a fellow rabid music fan named Mickey at a night-time office cleaning gig. The handful of office workers who were still around when I started at 6 generally didn’t interact much with the cleaning crew, but he saw my “Master of Puppets” t-shirt and struck up a conversation. (*click here for the soundtrack to this post)
Mickey said that Metallica was cool, they had their thing, but suggested I listen instead to the Grateful Dead, whom he considered a much more evolved band. Specifically, he told me I needed to see the Dead in concert, as he had too many times to count.
I knew more about rock than most of my peers, but within a minute or two it became obvious that Mickey’s knowledge was far greater, encyclopedic even. Though just a couple years older than I was, he had seen infinitely more shows than anyone I knew.
Not to be totally outdone, I mentioned that I was going to see Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in a couple months. Stevie was on the road in support of his new album, “In Step,” a reference to his being clean and sober after years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Mickey looked at me for a moment as if thinking this over and said, “Stevie Ray Vaughan is a bad-ass motherfucker. Eric Clapton better be ready for that show or he’ll get blown off the stage.”
This comment mirrored what I’d heard about Stevie’s concerts; every review was glowing. Two different friends said they’d been blown away by the Stevie Ray-Jeff Beck “Fire Meets the Fury” shows. A member of my inner circle (a tough customer not given to the lavish praise found in this post) came back from an SRV show in punch drunk, satisfied silence. The estimable Don Johnson spoke of watching as Stevie “attacked” his guitar.
As I saw it, when it came to rock and blues guitar, Stevie was the Second Coming A.J. (After Jimi). There were plenty of phenomenal second generation electric guitarists–Eddie Van Halen, Adrian Belew, Trey Anastasio–but no one brought the raw blues power and mystical intensity of Hendrix up through the ’80s like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The three-word name–think Martin Luther King, Frank Lloyd Wright, Franklin Delano Roosevelt–conferred stature, as did Vaughan’s aesthetic–snakeskin boots, Indian jewelry, a bolo tie, a feather-capped cowboy hat, sometimes an Indian headdress–which could appear contrived on a lesser musician.
And who else had the cojones not only to play “Voodoo Child” night after night onstage, but to make it his own? (To say nothing of Stevie’s unparalleled cover of “Little Wing.”)
This five-dollar VHS tape became an object of obsession, my personal version of Beatlemania. Among the treasures were the canon blast opening of “Testify,” a perfect title for a fiery instrumental in which the guitarist stands and delivers from the bottom of his soul. There was the gentle beauty of “Lenny,” a subtle jazz-inflected song Stevie wrote for his wife, complete with beads of sweat and a trailing cigarette. Not to mention a routinely
mind-blowing “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
But the performance that really rocked my world was the nine-and-a half minute “Texas
Flood.” For the first month I had the tape, I watched this tour de force almost every day. Not only was the playing spellbinding to my inner music fan, but “Flood” gave me a clinic in electric blues guitar. Soon I was aping Stevie’s meaty bends and wide vibrato, on high-gauge strings.