When my son, Travis was in the 6th grade, he played the saxophone. I loved it. Until one afternoon when I pulled up to the school to find him playing a sultry tune while the cheerleaders danced seductively. (Oh the trials of mothers of musicians!)
By 7th grade, Travis had jumped a couple feet in height, and he decided to add football to band and basketball. He would switch his football jersey for his middle school band tee shirt during half-time to play sax in the band and then run back on the field for the second half.
At the end of football season, Travis came to me with a proposition. He would quit the band, devote most of his time to football and trade his sax for an electric guitar. Yes, the sax he was pretty damn good at playing, and I had just paid off. (Oh the trials of single mothers!)
After some thought, I agreed.
But, I had conditions. Tucked inside the case of his new electric guitar was a copy of The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble. This was the deal. He could play Nirvana. He could play Green Day. He could play Everlast. He could play anything he wanted. However, he had to listen to and learn Stevie Ray Vaughan.
This, I believe is called, “good parenting.”
Now, to Stevie Ray. I love to listen to the great blues guitarist, Albert King, reminisce about Stevie Ray Vaughan as a young kid hungry to play. Vaughan left Dallas at 14 to try his luck in Austin where his brother, Jimmie Vaughan of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, was already living and playing. He quickly became an Austin favorite. But Albert King tells it far better than I ever could. Listen to King talk about the very young Stevie Ray playing with him in Antones in Austin.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were extremely popular on the Texas scene. Word started to get around. So much so that The Rolling Stones, great lovers of American blues, hired them to play a private party in NYC. Jerry Wexler got the unsigned, unrecorded group an appearance at Montreaux Jazz Festival. (Full concert on Tea Cakes and Whiskey You Tube Channel.) From there came David Bowie hiring Stevie Ray to play on Let’s Dance and the legendary John Hammond signing them to Epic. For a detailed timeline of their rise to fame go here: Rolling Stone.
Stevie Ray was the first white man to ever receive the W.C. Handy Blues Foundation Entertainer of the Year in 1985. Stevie was famous for saying we have to take color out of the blues. Albert King said that Stevie Ray was the only white boy he knew that had a black daddy. Stevie Ray took that as a great compliment. Obviously, these iconic blues artists had great love for the music and for each other as is evident in this video of B. B. King and Albert King playing with Vaughan. Perhaps what the world needs is more blues!!!
There are loads of stories out there about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his tenacity. One of the most famous is the one about him using Super Glue to glue back on the callouses of his fingers so he could continue playing. I’ve read the story in many forms. He cut callouses off his feet to glue onto his fingers. He glued his fingers, stuck them on his forearm, waited for the glue to dry and ripped the skin off his forearm to build new callouses. (Ouch!) From what I can gather, he more than likely used Super Glue to close his open and sometimes bleeding callouses. Judge for yourself though. The video below at 8:01 is what convinced me he had to have used Super Glue to repair his fingers. They are completely shredded. Now that is dedication to one’s art. (Side note: Super Glue was invented during the Vietnam War to quickly close wounds on the battle field.)
For an in depth discussion on Stevie Ray’s guitars and his use of Super Glue check out Iconic Axes. Interview With Guitar Tech Extraordinaire Rene Martinez
Now, the end of the post. On August 26, 1990, Stevie Ray Vaughan finished a Wisconsin show by playing Voodoo Chile with Double Trouble. Then in a final song with others on the bill, he performed Sweet Home Chicago with his brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray. Then it was off to grab a helicopter back to Chicago.
Minutes after take off, around 1:00 a.m. the helicopter crashed into a hill in dense fog. Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35. For details about the last concert and an audio recording of the performance of Sweet Home Chicago go here.
But I don’t want to end the post there. Because Stevie Ray Vaughan’s story doesn’t end in a helicopter crash on a foggy night. His story is still being told. He has influenced great blues players like Kenny Wayne Shepard, Gary Clark, Jr., and Chris Duarte. So the blues live on. They live on in the soulful playing Stevie Ray Vaughan left us, in the great collaborations he had with his mentors, in the voice of Beth Hart (which is a whole other blog.)
So let me leave you with my favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan performance. Tin Pan Alley. I love the way he talks to the audience with his guitar. And Johnny Copeland ain’t shabby either. As Stevie Ray said, “I just play.” And damn did he!