Only a handful of guitarists enter into the conversation of “Best Ever.” And all of them have their own sweet style, including the man who came to be known simply by his initials, SRV.
Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar as if he had no choice in the matter, possessed with a threatening-to-burst energy that flowed through his fingers because it had to get out somewhere. It’s as if Stevie himself electrified his guitar with the act of picking it up and playing it. And slinging the blues wasn’t the best way to make a living when he began.
Liking the blues in the early 60s meant you were on the cutting edge, part of an exclusive and hip club celebrating rawness and authenticity — a club comprised primarily of young musicians who took their love of the genre and morphed it into the very popular style known as blues-rock, brought to the forefront by such bands as The Rolling Stones in the UK and Canned Heat in the US and many others all over the place.
Now fast forward. Liking the blues two decades later, in the early 80s…just meant you were old. These years saw the flowering of the video age, where fashion trumped passion, and all the music was sleek and shiny, just like the artists. The future was in. Technology was all the rage, with synthesizers and robotic drums taking over the charts. Looking back was decidedly uncool. And sweat was not in style.
Enter Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughan, who burst onto the national scene fully formed with his hard rockin’ and urgent blues. He had already forged his own distinctive sound, which he put to good use on his debut album in 1983, and on David Bowie’s massive bestseller, Let’s Dance, that very same year. His bluesy solos and stinging licks contrasted beautifully with Bowie’s art-pop and brought Vaughan worldwide attention. He spent the rest of the decade becoming one of the bestselling blues artists of all time.
Sadly, Stevie Ray was killed in a helicopter accident in 1990, only a few hours after playing a concert with Eric Clapton. His music remains highly influential, yet one of a kind.
So if the house is a rockin’, don’t bother knockin’. Here’s the least you need to know:
Texas Flood (1983) A brash, confident, and muscular debut. Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, sound both tight (they used songs from their well-rehearsed live show) and loose (they recorded the album in two days). Reshaping the blues for a new generation. Check: “Pride And Joy” & “Texas Flood”
In Step (1989) A classic. His first clean and sober album. Recorded after knocking on death’s door and subsequently undergoing successful rehab, Stevie sounds like a master of the blues, rather than its servant. The peak of his powers. Check: “The House Is Rockin'” & “Crossfire”
The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 1 or The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble Probably all you really need to know. The cream of SRV’s 8 year recording career in either one or two-disc editions. Mixing up blues, rock, and R&B, in the studio and live on stage, all tied together with phenomenal fretwork. Check: “Cold Shot” & “The Sky Is Crying”