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Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan

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“The day the music died…”

We’ve all sung along to it and about it.

For Don McLean in his epic poem of Americana, it was when a plane went down near Clear Lake, Iowa carrying the lives and destinies of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper

For me, it was 25 years ago today when an eerily similar event took place after a concert at the Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin.

After an evening of incredible music with his band Double Trouble (Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Winans), who had performed that special night alongside Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and his big brother Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan boarded a helicopter bound for Chicago with 3 members of Clapton’s entourage which at 1am proceeded to lift off in dense-fog, then immediately banked left and slammed directly into a ski slope only a half-mile away.

The impact killed everyone on board instantly.

Generationally, people tend to remember where they were when specific events took place: Pearl Harbor, V-E and V-J Days for my grandparents’ generation, the assassinations of the Kennedys and MLK for my parents’ generation and 9-11 for my own. This helicopter crash was right in that same wheelhouse for me. I remember hearing the news that morning and being stunned by it. I remember somehow making it to my college class, but sitting there completely dumbfounded and unable to pay attention at all–there was a ringing in my ears almost as if I had a concussion. I remember going back out to my truck and just breaking down. I didn’t understand in that moment just how or why I was crying so much for a person who wasn’t my family or my friend–for someone that I never even met.

Later in life, I understood why.

I was a 14-year-old lover of music when I first happened upon Stevie Ray.

What was I listening to?

Rock & Roll? You bet!

Pop? Check.

Funk & Soul? Yeah, baby!

Country? Meh.

Classical? Sure.

But through peers and my older brother, I was very much into hard rock and heavy metal. The closest thing to the Blues that I knew from at that point was Clapton, who always had one foot in them but also strayed all over the place into other styles and influences. Then one day, I heard the most amazing sound ever. It was the sound of a guitar that was absolutely shredding but controlled and melodic, over a sick funk beat that drove me bat-shit crazy. What the fuck is that? I wondered. I looked up and on MTV a video was playing (back when it played such things) where a guitarist was dressed flamboyantly yet slick, in this amazing looking hat, with his head down and working his craft — all the while with a rain storm hitting him like he’s in the midst of a hurricane. Here in front of my eyes in fact WAS a Hurricane: a force of nature unto himself. You wanna talk about making an impression? One take of hearing that, one glance at seeing him, and I was hooked!


And because of Stevie Ray, his sound, his talent, his technique, his style, I became a fan and began my journey into becoming a lover and student of the Blues.

Stevie Ray was the greatest musician ever for me. He’s generally on the list somewhere of the Top Guitarists who ever lived from name-a-source, but he’s rarely at the very top. Jimi Hendrix may well have singularly had more influence and impact on other musicians and society, but as much as I love and respect him, he ain’t better.

Not to me.

For my money, no guitarist, no musician has ever been more one with his instrument than SRV. What came out of his amp, his pedals, his Stratocaster and strings and pickups, his fingers (and hands…and arms…and elbows…and tongue…and teeth) was simply and completely his soul pouring forth, oozing through each component and out into the ether. There were no mechanics for him, no technological wizardry, per se–the sound you received was just purely and truly HIM.

Unabashed. Unreserved. Unrelenting. BOOM. There he is.

I’ve lost a lot this past year–people who have greatly influenced me, inspired me, and impacted me. My father was the biggest of these losses and the most painful one to endure. Dad had always been a fan of Clapton, so when I discovered SRV & Double Trouble back in 1985, I had to share it with him. Instant fan. I remember him going with me to Tower Records the day that the In Step album came out. We both loved and flipped out over Stevie Ray. His music and talent was something that we were both passionate about. We watched him together, we listened to him together, we talked about him together. And together Dad and I both began to learn about the Blues.

For that alone, I owe Stevie Ray Vaughan everything.

Here’s the hurricane his damn self…I suggest playing this and turning it up to 11.