When I came across this story in the archives section of The Washington Post the other day, I knew it need to be shared with all of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Addicts. Yes, I noticed it when I found the print story on “The Last Guitar “ posted last week. It details Stevie Ray and his raw emotions and pure unadulterated, physical performances. It was written in 1996, it holds true more than ever now. I hope Susie from soul-to soul.com is reading, it is for her. I love Stevie Ray and everything about him, simply put, he moves my soul both musically and lyrically much like Jimi Hendrix, and for the people that know me, no higher compliment can be payed to anyone. If I were to write a story myself, this is what I would say….
A Bluesman’s Lingering Notes; Six Years After His Death, Stevie Ray Vaughan Is Hotter Than Ever
Tribute albums to dead musicians are inherently unsatisfying, defined more by what they lack than by what they contain. They’re like a banquet where the guest of honor never shows and the main course is never served.
A concert featuring some of the world’s greatest blues guitarists — Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray — might sound like a full plate. But oddly enough, when these musicians assembled in May 1995, not one was able to fill the wide-brimmed hat of the man they had come to honor, a man who almost single-handedly revived the blues and gave the guitar a new lease on life before his tragic death in a plane crash six years ago.
This week the video of that performance, “A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan”” is the No. 1 music video in the country.
In some ways, Vaughan is as popular now as he was before his death. “Live From Austin,” a video of one of his performances, has held a spot in Top 10 for 40 weeks. Vaughan has turned up on soundtracks for such recent movies as “Heaven’s Prisoners” and “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Robert Rodriguez, the latter film’s director, is planning to make a movie of his life. Surf the Internet and you find 25 Web sites dedicated to Vaughan. Tribute bands from Finland to California try to cop his licks, and every hotshot guitarist has been slapped with the label “the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
Vaughan’s resurgent popularity comes at a time of rekindled interest in the blues — enough that Billboard magazine added a blues chart to its recording industry rankings two years ago. With the music industry in a post-grunge slump, perhaps there’s a hunger to get back to the basics of what rock music is all about.
When Vaughan burst onto the scene in late 1983, the music industry was going through a creative slump in the wake of punk’s decline. It was a time oddly parallel to the present. America was wallowing in peace and prosperity, yet there was an underlying anxiety that all was not well. Like Clinton today, President Reagan was popular enough that it seemed he was on his way to reelection, yet he was also a polarizing force who left many uneasy about his ability to lead. Blues is the perfect music for an Age of Anxiety, at once articulating our pain and reassuring us with its dependable traditional format.
As the ’80s gold rush began to fade and great men seemed few and far between, Stevie Ray Vaughan came along as a true guitar hero, the first who had enough technical virtuosity to claim the mantle of Jimi Hendrix. Vaughan worshiped at the altar of Hendrix, brazenly inviting comparisons to him and even recording one of his songs, “Voodoo Chile.” Like Hendrix, Vaughan could play rhythm and lead simultaneously. He played fast and loud, manipulating feedback like a snake charmer mesmerizing a cobra. He played a song the way Jackson Pollock painted a painting — with one fluid, masculine gesture, never pausing to think about what he would do next. His style was power and passion, not cold, intellectual proficiency.
Also like Hendrix, Vaughan was a crossover artist. Hendrix was a black man playing in the mostly white arena of acid rock. Vaughan was a white man playing the blues. Today in post-O.J.-trial America, seeing black bluesmen alongside white bluesmen saluting a white man who played the blues, judging him by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin, is a welcome sight. If Stevie Ray Vaughan were an answer on “Jeopardy!,” the question might be, “Who proved that white men can play the blues?”
For most of his career, Vaughan shared something else with Hendrix: a taste for the fast life. His career was almost destroyed by Crown Royal and cocaine. But unlike Hendrix, who finally succumbed in 1970 to what the doctors euphemistically called “misadventure,” Vaughan made it through to the other side. After going through rehab, he spent the last three years of his life clean and sober. Vaughan would have felt right at home testifying at this year’s Oprah-style political conventions. The master of 12-bar blues became a 12-step success story. Today, as drugs and alcohol fell one musician after another, Vaughan’s story offers a ray of hope. Lee Hopkins, who runs a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan club out of Dallas, says Vaughan’s battle against substance abuse partly accounts for his popularity. “People take inspiration from Stevie’s recovery,” Hopkins says. “A lot of people have written me and said they used his example turn their life around.”
Ever since the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed into an Iowa field and burst into flames, rock has had a peculiar penchant for lionizing young lives whose potential has been snuffed out in their prime. Rock is still largely a young man’s game, and an early death guarantees that a musician will be forever young in the minds of fans. But many of deities of rock’s peculiar cult of death met their early ends by their own hands. Vaughan’s death at 35 in a plane crash seemed all the more tragic because it seemed as if he had already cheated death when he won his victory over drugs and alcohol. Like the fate of a soldier who makes it through a war without a scratch, and then is killed on his way back home, Vaughan’s unexpected death seemed like a cruel joke.
Vaughan’s record label, Epic, continues to churn out material from its vaults. A box set is tentatively scheduled for release next year, and there seem to be as many recordings of Vaughan performing live as concerts he played. Guitarists like Chris Duarte and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a 19-year-old kid from Shreveport, La., who says Vaughan first inspired him to pick up a guitar, are being groomed as his successors.
“What I see that’s lingering now in a big way is that he has so many imitators, probably more imitators than I’ve seen in the longest time,” says guitarist Robert Cray, who played with Vaughan at his last concert and performs on the tribute. But Joe Nick Patoski, co-author of “Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire,” points to the tribute video as evidence of how sorely missed he is. “Those are some of the finest guitarists in the world, but I don’t think any of them has the fire of Stevie.”
Guitar Players Center gives credit to The Washington Post for displaying it in 1996, It was time for a reprint. Let me know what you think of it. Enjoy.
Find out more about Johnny Copeland Texas Bluesman and Guitar Player.