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Stevie Ray Vaughan

 

If you were to make a list of the greatest blues guitarists of the past thirty years Stevie Ray Vaughan would have to be at or near the top. He began his career in 1982 with his band that eventually came to be known as Double Trouble. Stevie was a blues innovator in the same mold as Eric Clapton or Robert Johnson. He has influenced current performers like John Mayer, Robert Randolph, Los Lonely Boys and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. In 2007 Rolling Stone magazine declared him the seventh greatest guitarist of all-time.
 
Stevie Ray Vaughan was born on Saturday, October 3, 1954 in Dallas, Texas. His parents were music aficionados who used to take Stevie and his older brother Jimmie to blues/rock concerts featuring artists like Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed. Stevie received his first guitar when he was seven years old and Jimmie, three years Stevie’s senior, gave him his first lesson. By the age of thirteen Stevie was playing in various blues clubs in the Dallas area and a few years later dropped out of high school to pursue music full time. He moved to Austin and began playing the club scene with a band named the Cobras. The Cobras would eventually change into Triple Threat, which in turn morphed into Double Trouble with Stevie as the lead singer as well as lead guitarist.
 
In 1982 the band got its big break when they performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It was there that Stevie met Jackson Browne, who gave Double Trouble free time in his studio, and David Bowie who asked Stevie to play on his next album Let’s Dance. Let’s Dance was a run away success, soaring as high as number 4 on Billboard’s top-100. A record contract for Double Trouble followed, and the band’s first album, Texas Flood, was released in 1983. It reached number 34 on the charts and also garnered critical acclaim. The band released its second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, the next year and its third album, Soul to Soul, in 1985. These albums both reached the top 35 on the Billboard charts and Couldn’t Stand the Weather became Double Trouble’s first gold album in 1985.
 
Around this time Stevie became overwhelmed by his addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He entered a rehabilitation program and by 1989 he was totally sober and ready to record with Double Trouble again. That year the band released In Step, an album that was praised by the critics and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. At the tail end of the In Step tour the band played two shows at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre outside of East Troy, Wisconsin. The concert also featured Eric Clapton and Robert Cray. Clapton, Cray, Buddy Guy, and both Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan collaborated on the show’s final number; Robert Johnson’s classic blues tune “Sweet Home Chicago.”
 
Chicago, somewhat ironically, was the next destination for the tour. Double Trouble was expecting a long bus ride from East Troy to Chicago; however a member of Clapton’s crew informed Vaughan that there were three extra seats on a helicopter bound for the Windy City. Stevie, Jimmie and Jimmie’s wife Connie all claimed a seat but when they reached the copter they found the crewman had overestimated and there was only one unoccupied seat remaining. Stevie Ray requested it for himself and his brother consented. The helicopter took off at 12:44 am and made it only 0.6 miles before crashing into a ski slope. All five people on-board died. Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35.       
 
At the time of his death Stevie had been working on an album with his brother Jimmie. This record, named Family Style was released in 1990 a few months after Stevie’s tragic demise. The album netted the brothers two Grammys the following year: Best Contemporary Blues Album and Best Rock Instrumental Performance (D/FW). In 1991 Double Trouble released a posthumous compilation entitled The Sky Is Crying. The album once again won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and also won Best Rock Instrumental Performance (Little Wing). The past fifteen years have seen eight Double Trouble compilation and greatest hits albums released. 
 
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s distinctive guitar sound was due to a number of elements. He used heavy gauge guitar strings and then tuned his guitar down a full half step. For amplification he used a wide range of vacuum tube amplifiers, including multiple different amps at the same time. Vaughan would play with his pick upside-down, with the flat part striking the strings. His strings were GHS nickel rockers sized: .013, .015, .019, .028, .038, and .058. It takes incredible hand strength to play strings this heavy, especially with the high action Stevie always put on his guitars. Sometimes Stevie would use a Mighty-Mite brass slide that he used for songs like “Give Me Back My Wig” and “Boot Hill”. The net result was a clanging, intimidating tone that remained clear and not distorted.    
 
Vaughan’s guitar of choice was a Fender Stratocaster that combined a ’62 neck with a ’63 body and ’59 pick-ups (Stevie always referred to it as a ’59). It was referred to as Number One. It can be heard on all of Double Trouble’s studio albums. He also had a number of other famous guitars: Red, Lenny, and Charley. Red was a stock ’62 Stratocaster until a left-handed neck was installed in 1986 (Stevie, much like Jimi Hendrix, was right-handed but favored the sound of a left-handed neck). He played Red on various concert dates during the 80s. Lenny was a guitar given to him by his wife Lennora (Lenny). Speculated to be a 63 or 64 model Lenny had brown stain on natural wood and beautiful tortoise shell inlay in the body. Stevie used it to record “Lenny” and “Riviera Paradise”. Lenny was sold at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Auction for $623,500. Charley was a gift from Charley Wirz of Charley’s Guitar Shop in Dallas. It had an alder body, ebony fingerboard, maple neck and Danelectro pick-ups. This guitar can be seen on the cover of Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
 
Stevie Ray was an avid collector of vintage guitars and gear. He did a lot to start the vintage guitar movement. Old musical equipment, which once could be obtained cheaply, became obscenely valuable and sought after by collectors. He also has a line of signature guitars made by Fender in 2004 as part of their tribute series. Fender made 100 replicas of Number One. By all accounts it’s a faithful reproduction of Stevie’s favorite Stratocaster. 
 
Few musician experiment as much with different kinds of equipment as Stevie Ray Vaughan did. From the very beginning of his career Stevie was known to use multiple speakers together at the same time. In 1980 he combined two Fender Vibroverbs. The following year he switched to Marshall Club and Country Combo amps; one 4x10 the other 6x12. He traded these for a Fender Super Reverb, for cleaner sounds. He combined the Reverb with a pair of Vibroverbs and played like this for a while. In 1983 Stevie ordered a speaker from Howard Dumble in California, a Dumble Steel String Singer, and used that with his pair of Vibroverbs. Vaughan upgraded to Electro-voice EVM speakers in 1984 due to improved clarity and the diminished chance of the speakers blowing out. On his pedal board he used a Vox wah pedal and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. He never used two of each when he was in concert but he did so when he recorded Soul to Soul. Stevie utilized an MXR loop selector to circumvent any and all effects. 
 

By the mid-80s Stevie Ray had a vast collection of amplifiers. For his tour of Japan Vaughan compiled a rig consisting of 2 Fender Vibroverbs, a Fender Vibratone stacked on top of its road case, a silverface Fender Twin Reverb with a Fender Super Reverb on top, and a blackface Twin Reverb in the back, set on top of its road case. In 1986 he added another Fender Super Reverb, a Marshall 8x10 cabinet, a Dumble 4x12 cabinet and a newer blackface Dumble SSS. That year he also briefly used a Univox Univibe with expression pedal. In the late 80s he used a Marshall 200 watt Major Head for a while before switching to a couple of Fender Bassman Reissues. He also added more effects to his pedal board acquiring two Arbiter Fuzz Faces and a couple of Octavias: one Roger Mayer version and a Tycobrahe Octavia.

 

Stevie Ray Vaughan, like so many of his comrades, was a virtuoso guitarist whose life was tragically cut much too short. What makes his story even sadder is that he had defeated the demons of drugs and alcohol and was producing his best music ever: as evidenced by his four posthumous Grammy awards. Stevie had great musical range. He performed everything from shuffle style songs (Pride and Joy, Love Struck Baby) to classic blues riffs (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather) to mellow jazz tunes (Lenny) and did all with unflappable technique and unquenchable soul. He was one of the greatest guitarists of his or any other generation. May Stevie Ray Vaughan rest in peace.
 

     

Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Slash
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Santana
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
 
 
 
 
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