Stephen "Stevie" Ray Vaughan
(October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. In spite of a short-lived mainstream career spanning seven years, he is widely considered as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of blues music, and one of the most important figures in the revival of blues in the 1980s. Allmusic describes him as "a rocking powerhouse of a guitarist who gave blues a burst of momentum in the '80s, with influence still felt long after his tragic death."Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Vaughan began playing guitar at the age of seven, inspired by his older brother Jimmie. In 1971, he dropped out of high school and moved to Austin the following year. He played gigs with numerous bands, earning a spot in Marc Benno's band, the Nightcrawlers, and later with Denny Freeman in the Cobras, with whom he continued to work through late 1977. He then formed his own group, Triple Threat Revue, before renaming the band Double Trouble after hiring drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. He gained fame after his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, and in 1983 his debut studio album, Texas Flood
, charted at number 38. The ten-song album was a commercially successful release that sold over half-a-million copies. After achieving sobriety in late 1986, he headlined concert tours with Jeff Beck in 1989 and Joe Cocker in 1990 before his tragic death in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35.Vaughan was inspired musically by American and British blues rock. He favored clean amplifiers with high volume and contributed to the popularity of vintage musical equipment. He often combined several different amplifiers together and used minimal effects pedals. Chris Gill of Guitar World
commented: "Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar tone was as dry as a San Antonio summer and as sparkling clean as a Dallas debutante, the product of the natural sound of amps with ample clean headroom. However, Vaughan occasionally used pedals to augment his sound, mainly to boost the signal, although he occasionally employed a rotating speaker cabinet and wah pedals for added textural flair."Vaughan was the receiver of several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1983, readers of Guitar Player
voted him as Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitar Player. In 1984, the Blues Foundation named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, and in 1987 Performance Magazine
honored him with Rhythm and Blues Act of the Year. Earning six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone
ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time.Early yearsIn May 1969, after leaving the Brooklyn Underground, Vaughan joined a band called the Southern Distributor. Vaughan had learned The Yardbirds' "Jeff's Boogie" and played the song at the audition. Mike Steinbach, the group's drummer, commented: "The kid was fourteen. We auditioned him on 'Jeff's Boogie,' really fast instrumental guitar, and he played it note for note." Although they played pop rock covers, Vaughan conveyed his interest in the addition of blues songs to the group's repertoire; he was told that he wouldn't earn a living playing blues music and the band parted ways. Later that year, bassist Tommy Shannon walked into a Dallas club and heard Vaughan playing guitar. Fascinated by the skillful playing, which he described as "incredible even then", Shannon borrowed a bass guitar and the two jammed. Within a few years, they began performing together in a band called Krackerjack.In February 1970, Vaughan joined a band called Liberation, which was a nine-piece group with a horn section. Having spent the past month briefly playing bass with Jimmie in Texas Storm, he had originally auditioned as bassist. Impressed by Vaughan's guitar playing, Scott Phares, the group's original guitarist, modestly became the bassist. In mid-1970, they performed at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, where ZZ Top asked to perform. During Liberation's break, Vaughan jammed with ZZ Top on the Nightcaps song "Thunderbird". Phares later described the performance: "They tore the house down. It was awesome. It was one of those magical evenings. Stevie fit in like a glove on a hand."
In September 1970, Vaughan made his first studio recordings with the band Cast of Thousands, which included future actor Stephen Tobolowsky. They recorded two songs, "Red, White and Blue" and "I Heard a Voice Last Night", for a compilation album, A New Hi
, that featured various teenage bands from Dallas. In late January 1971, feeling confined by playing pop hits with Liberation, Vaughan formed his own band, Blackbird. After growing tired with the Dallas music scene, Vaughan dropped out of high school and moved with Blackbird to Austin, Texas, which had more liberal and tolerant audiences. There, Vaughan initially took residence at the Rolling Hills Country Club, a venue that would later become the Soap Creek Saloon. Blackbird played at several clubs in Austin and opened shows for bands such as Sugarloaf, Wishbone Ash, and Zephyr, but could not maintain a consistent lineup. By the end of the year, he joined a rock band, Krackerjack; he performed with them for less than three months.In March 1973, Vaughan joined Marc Benno's band, the Nightcrawlers, after meeting Benno at a jam session years before. The band featured vocalist Doyle Bramhall, who met Vaughan when he was twelve years old. The next month, Vaughan and the Nightcrawlers recorded an album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood for A&M Records. While the album was rejected by A&M, it included Vaughan's first songwriting efforts, "Dirty Pool" and "Crawlin'". Soon afterward, he and the Nightcrawlers traveled back to Austin without Benno. In mid-1973, they signed a contract with Bill Ham, manager for ZZ Top, and played various gigs across the South, though many of them were disastrous. Ham left the band stranded in Mississippi without any way to make it back home and demanded reimbursement from Vaughan for equipment expenses; Ham was never reimbursed.In 1975, Vaughan joined a six-piece band called Paul Ray and the Cobras that included guitarist Denny Freeman. For the next two-and-a-half years, he earned a living performing weekly at a popular venue in town, the Soap Creek Saloon, and ultimately the newly-opened Antone's, widely known as Austin's "home of the blues". In late 1976, Vaughan recorded a single with them, "Other Days" as the A-side and "Texas Clover" as the B-side. Playing guitar on both tracks, the single was released on February 7, 1977. In March, readers of the Austin Sun
voted them as Band of the Year. In addition to playing with the Cobras, Vaughan jammed with many of his influences at Antone's, including Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Albert King.Texas Flood
and Couldn't Stand the Weather
Double Trouble's reputation began to build, and a July 1982 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival brought them to the attention of record producer John H. Hammond, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. In 1983 Vaughan contributed to Bowie's album, Let's Dance
; the album sold over three times as many copies as Bowie's previous best-seller. Vaughan was invited to join Bowie's band for the Serious Moonlight Tour, but declined at the urging of his management. In March 1983, Double Trouble signed with Epic Records, a subsidiary of CBS Records. In June of the same year Epic remixed and released Texas Flood
. The album spawned several singles, including "Pride and Joy", "Love Struck Baby", and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". In July 1983, Double Trouble performed at Toronto, Canada's El Mocambo club.In the fall of 1983 Double Trouble opened 17 shows for The Moody Blues; the band received $5,000 per show, plus a bonus for successful ticket sales. In December of '83, Vaughan recorded a session including both audio and video with Albert King and also that same December 1983, Double Trouble performed for a taping of Austin City Limits
; the show aired on February 28, 1984, and featured Jimmie's band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Producer, Terry Lickona, agreed that Vaughan's performance was "a combination of nervous, paranoid, and so insecure", saying that he had "zero self-confidence" and was "sweating big-time the whole night". Double Trouble also performed a sold-out show in New York City's Beacon Theatre, with Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger in attendance. By the end of 1983, Texas Flood
received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording. "Rude Mood" was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.Couldn't Stand the Weather
, Double Trouble's second album, was released in 1984 to generally favorable reviews. Allmusic
gave positive, although reserved, feedback, saying that there aren't "many weaknesses on the record, aside from the suspicion that Vaughan didn't really push himself as hard as he could have". Music critic Robert Christgau called it "a roadhouse album with gargantuan sonic imagination". The album was commercially successful, and while it did not receive better accolades, it peaked at number 31 on the US Billboard 200 chart. The album's title track and "Cold Shot" were released as singles, with their accompanying music videos receiving regular airplay in North America on MTV. The album also featured Double Trouble's rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," which would become a signature song for Vaughan in live performance.On October 4, 1984, Double Trouble performed a sold-out benefit concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall, a recording of which was released after his death, as Live at Carnegie Hall
. In celebration of Vaughan's thirtieth birthday, the show featured many special guests including the Roomful of Blues horn section, keyboardist Dr. John, Jimmie Vaughan, vocalist Angela Strehli, and drummer George Rains. The band wore custom velvet "mariachi" suits and designed a stage set of blue and gold. Vaughan originally planned to film the performance for future video release, though CBS Records declined. Strehli recalls: "...it was supposed to be videoed and at the last minute they pulled some kind of union thing: 'Well, this show is going to run past eleven, so that means we get double time.' So they had to cancel the video part, which is just a shame."The concert was sold-out with Vaughan's closest friends, and family in the audience; the proceeds benefited the T.J. Martell Foundation's work in leukemia and cancer research. Vaughan was extremely excited and nervous, saying: "The last time I was that nervous is when I got married, but I couldn't show that to anybody ... I calmed down about halfway through 'Voodoo Chile.' I looked over at Tommy [Shannon\], and he was just sort of staring at me, and that's when I knew it was gonna be all right." An afterparty was thrown by MTV for the band, record company, and other VIPs. According to the Dallas Times Herald, it took Vaughan an hour just to walk from the bar to the table across the room where his parents were sitting; the article also said, "Stevie Ray found his father, a retired asbestos worker who hadn't taken a plane ride since the Korean War, and hugged him until they both cried." After the show, Jimmie recalled that he was worried that the crowd would have been "a little stiff", saying "[It\] turned out they're just like any other beer joint."Following the Carnegie Hall performance, Double Trouble toured Australia and New Zealand, performing two shows at the Sydney Opera House. With increasing exposure, Vaughan's talent earned him two W. C. Handy Awards. He was the first white musician to receive Entertainer of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year. Vaughan also co-produced and played on Lonnie Mack's album Strike Like Lightning
. Released in April 1985, the album become Alligator Records' best seller.
Soul to Soul and substance abuse
In April 1985, Vaughan appeared on opening day at the Houston Astrodome to perform "The Star Spangled Banner". Although he was the first guitarist to have opened a major league baseball game with the national anthem, Vaughan supposedly did not receive a positive reception for the rendition; one reporter said, "I was sure he'd be dead by the time he hit 30." Double Trouble's third studio album, titled Soul to Soul
, was released on September 30, 1985, and featured new keyboardist Reese Wynans. Vaughan suggested that the album was named Soul to Soul
because the band "learned a lot" and "grew a lot closer". Two singles from the album—"Change It" and "Look at Little Sister"—both peaked at number 17 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.In March 1986, Double Trouble shared the bill with The Fabulous Thunderbirds during a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The band recorded live concerts across three nights of a subsequent US tour in Austin and Dallas. These recordings, along with a 1985 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, were released as Live Alive
on November 17, 1986. The album included a previously unreleased cover of Stevie Wonder's song "Superstition". Vaughan later admitted that the album wasn't his best, saying, "I wasn't in very good shape when we recorded Live Alive
. At the time, I didn't realize how bad a shape I was in. There were more fix-it jobs done on the album than I would have liked. Some of the work sounds like [it was\] the work of half-dead people. There were some great notes that came out, but I just wasn't in control; nobody was."Vaughan developed an alcohol and cocaine habit while touring with Double Trouble; his performance contract called for two fifths of Crown Royal and one fifth of Scotch. His cocaine use increased to a quarter-ounce a day (about seven grams) and spiraled into a life-threatening dependency. Doyle Bramhall recalls that there were "mounds of cocaine laying on top of the organ," saying, "Where I was doing a lot, Stevie was doing five times, ten times more than I was doing." Vaughan's stomach became fiercely scarred from dissolving half a gram of cocaine in alcohol, leaving hundreds of small cuts in the stomach lining. During a tour of Europe a month later, Vaughan was hospitalized in Ludwigshafen for suffering from near-death dehydration after years of alcohol and substance abuse. Tommy Shannon said that as Vaughan tried to get up from his hotel bed, he vomited all over his chest and was covered with a puddle of blood. Layton recalled:GuitarsVaughan owned and used a variety of guitars during his career. His guitar of choice, and the instrument that he became most associated with, was the Fender Stratocaster, his favorite being a 1962 body, with a 1961 neck, and pickups dated from 1959. This is why Vaughan usually referred to his Stratocaster as a, "1959 Strat." Vaughan also referred to this instrument as his "first wife," or, "Number One." Another favourite guitar, was a slightly later Strat he named 'Lenny' after his wife, Lenora. While at a local pawn shop in 1980, Vaughan had noticed this particular guitar, a 1965 stratocaster that had been refinished in red, with the original sunburst finish peeking through. It also had a 1910 Mandolin inlay just below the bridge. The pawn shop was asking $300 for it, which was way more than Vaughan had at the time. Lenny saw how badly he wanted this guitar, so she got six of their friends to chip in $50 each, and bought it for him. The guitar was presented to him on his birthday in 1980, and that night, after bringing "Lenny" (the guitar, and wife) home with him, he wrote the song, "Lenny." He started using a borrowed Stratocaster during high school and used Stratocasters predominantly in his live performances and recordings, although he did play other guitars, including custom guitars built for him by James Hamilton of Hamiltone Guitars.Vaughan bought many Stratocasters and gave some away as gifts. A sunburst Diplomat Strat-style guitar was purchased by Vaughan and given to his girlfriend Janna Lapidus to learn to play on. Vaughan used heavy strings starting with .013's, tuned a half-step below standard tuning. He played with so much tension that it was not uncommon for him to separate his fingernail from the quick movement along the strings. The owner of an Austin club recalled Vaughan coming into the office between sets to borrow some super glue, which he used to keep fingernail split from widening while he continued to play. He preferred a guitar neck with an asymmetrical profile (thicker at the top) which was more comfortable for his thumb-over style of playing. Heavy use of the vibrato bar necessitated frequent replacements; Vaughan often had his roadie, Byron Barr, obtain custom stainless steel bars made by Barr's father. Vaughan was also photographed playing a National Duolian, Epiphone Riviera, Gibson Flying V, as well as several other models. Vaughan used a Gibson Johnny Smith to record "Stang's Swang", and a Guild 12-string acoustic for his performance on MTV Unplugged
in January 1990. On June 24, 2004, one of Vaughan's Stratocasters, dubbed "Lenny", was sold at an auction to benefit Eric Clapton's Crossroads Centre in Antigua; the instrument was bought by Guitar Center for $623,500.
Amplifiers and effects
Vaughan was a catalyst in the revival of vintage amplifiers and effects during the 1980s. His loud volume and use of heavy strings required powerful and robust amplifiers. Vaughan used two black-face Fender Super Reverbs, which were crucial in shaping his clear overdriven sound. He would often blend other amps with the Super Reverbs, including black-face Fender Vibroverbs, and brands such as Dumble, and Marshall, which he used for his clean sound. While his mainstay effects were the Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Vox wah-wah pedal, Vaughan experimented with a range of effects. He used a Fender Vibratone, designed as a Leslie speaker for electric guitars, and provided a warbling chorus effect, which can be heard on the track "Cold Shot". He used a vintage Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face that can be heard on In Step
, as well as an Octavia.
Guitar rig and signal flow
A detailed gear diagram of Vaughan's 1985 "Soul to Soul" touring guitar rig is well-documented. The diagram is based on multiple interviews conducted with long-time SRV guitar tech and effects builder, Cesar Diaz.
Vaughan throughout his career revived blues rock and paved the way for many other artists. Vaughan's work continues to influence numerous blues, rock and alternative artists, including John Mayer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike McCready, Albert Cummings, Los Lonely Boys and Chris Duarte, among others. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Vaughan as "the leading light in American blues" and developed "a uniquely eclectic and fiery style that sounded like no other guitarist, regardless of genre". In 1983, Variety
magazine called Vaughan the "guitar hero of the present era".In the months that followed his death, Vaughan sold over 5.5 million albums in the United States. On September 25, 1990, Epic released Family Style
, with several promotional singles and videos. In November 1990, CMV Enterprises released Pride and Joy
, a collection of eight Double Trouble music videos. Sony signed a deal with the Vaughan estate to obtain control of his back catalog, as well as permission to release albums with previously unreleased material and new collections of released work. On October 29, 1991, The Sky Is Crying
was released as Vaughan's first posthumous album with Double Trouble, and featured studio recordings from 1984–1985. Other compilations, live albums, and films have also been released since his death.On October 3, 1991, former Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed "Stevie Ray Vaughan Commemoration Day", during which a memorial concert was held at the Texas Theatre. In 1993, a memorial statue of Vaughan was unveiled on Auditorium Shores and is the first public monument of a musician in Austin. In September 1994, a Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Run for Recovery was held in Dallas; the event was a benefit for the Ethel Daniels Foundation, established to help those in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction who cannot afford treatment. In 2005, Martha Vaughan established the Stevie Ray Vaughan Scholarship, awarded by W.E. Greiner Middle School to students who intend to attend college and pursue the arts as a profession.
Awards and honors
Vaughan won five W. C. Handy Awards and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1985, he was named an honorary admiral in the Texas Navy. Vaughan had a single number-one hit on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for the song "Crossfire". His album sales in the US stand at over 15 million units. Family Style
, released shortly after his death, won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and became his best-selling, non-Double Trouble studio album with over a million shipments in the US. In 2003, Rolling Stone
ranked him seventh among the "100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time". He also became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Guitar World Magazine ranked him as no. 8 in its list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists.