At a time when music was split between synthesizers and ‘ heavy guitars’, Stevie Ray Vaughan brought back the best essence of blues rock and classic rock to the radio waves. He may not have been a particularly brilliant composer, nor a gifted singer, but as a guitarist he was one of the chosen ones, the clear successor to his admired Jimi Hendrix. John Mayer defined very well the style and passion with which Vaughan played: "There is an intensity in Stevie's playing that only he could achieve. It's a rage without anger, it's devotional, it's religious. He perfectly combined the supernatural vibe of Jimi Hendrix, the intensity of Albert King, the best of British, Texas and Chicago blues and the class and precision of his older brother Jimmie. Stevie was the ultimate guitar hero.” Here are 10 incredible solos to prove it.
Pride and Joy (Texas Flood)
Pride And Joy is the best known song of Stevie Ray Vaughan's career. It was one of the original compositions he played at his legendary performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, where a small number of purists even booed the artist, although the vast majority were amazed by this rough diamond that had not yet signed a recording contract. Soon he recorded Texas Flood, along with his band, the faithful ‘Double Trouble’, and the Texas blues had a new guide. Pride And Joy, and the rest of the album, sounded Martian in 1983, on a radio dominated by synthesizers and new romantics, with Vaughan delivering a master's degree in all types of 'licks' with the best old flavor of blues, rock & roll and R&B. It became one of the staples of his live repertoire and great versions can be found in his concerts, from the Montreux concert to the acoustic rendition, with a 12-string, of the 1990 Live At MTV Unplugged.
Texas Flood (Texas Flood)
In late 1982 Jackson Browne gave Vaughan and Double Trouble his recording studio in Los Angeles for three days. The plan, in principle, was to record a demo for a record company to listen to, however, the strength and energy he put into those 10 songs, meant that it ended up becoming the first album of his career. The last song they recorded was a cover of a blues number called Texas Flood, originally recorded by Larry Davis in 1958. It was a recording ‘cooked on a low fire’ but with such a level of intensity that Vaughan decided to call the album that, and there are few better letters of introduction to his style, with its incredible tone and vibrato; it as intimate as B.B. King. The version that appears on Live At The Mocambo is also highly recommended.
Lenny (Texas Flood, 1983)
The story is well known among Vaughan's followers. In 1980 Vaughan was shopping with his wife, Lenora Bailey, whom he called Lenny, when he saw a '60 Stratocaster in a pawn store. Although he was already a household name in Austin, he was still far from being recognized outside and could not afford the $350 it cost. Seeing her husband's disappointment, his wife contacted several mutual friends and made a collection until she was able to go to the store and buy the guitar. The same day his wife gave it to him he stayed up all night playing it and composed Lenny in homage to his wife. Of all the instrumental pieces in his career, Lenny is the most beautiful and subtle, it is also the one in which he is more clearly influenced by the most ethereal of Hendrix’s songs, such as Little Wing, The Wind Cries Mary and Castles Made Of Sand.
Rude Mood (Texas Flood, 1983)
Vaughan's first album, Texas Flood, featured three instrumental pieces, Lenny, Testify and Rude Mood in which the Texan updated the Hopkins' Sky Hop of another seminal Texas blues figure, Lightnin' Hopkins. It is incredible to listen to the amount of guitar techniques that he uses, from those cascades of notes, to subtle Curtis Mayfield touches or burning single-note solos. This was a demonstration of his absolute mastery of the six strings.
Let's Dance (Let's Dance, 1983, David Bowie)
David Bowie was one of the lucky ones who was able to enjoy Vaughan's live performance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. He said he hadn't seen a guitarist who impressed him that much since he discovered Jeff Beck in the mid-60s, before he joined the Yardbirds. After Vaughan’s performance, they were introduced and talked for hours about the roots of the Texas funky blues, about Vaughan's early days. The guitarist was surprised by how interested the superstar was, even more so when at the end he said he’d like to stay in touch. Months later Vaughan didn't think Bowie would ever call him, but the creator of Ziggy Stardust did call and told him he was recording an album. It was January 1983 and Vaughan recorded several solos for Bowie's new album, including the title track, with his Strat plugged into a Super Reverb. The song appeared on March 14, 1983 and became an immediate planetary success, combining Nile Rodgers' funk with the Beatles' Twist & Shout "aaahh" - and ending with a spectacular solo by Vaughan. Eric Clapton remembers how when he first heard the song he had to stop the car he was driving and say to himself, "I have to know who that guitarist is today". Stevie Ray Vaughan was the guitarist of the number one song in the U.S. and he had not yet released a single album...
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Couldn’t Stand the Weather, 1984)
You could say that Stevie Ray Vaughan was the guitarist who came closest to reaching Hendrix's sacred fire. Despite having two different styles, their passion for Strats, their shyness offstage and, above all, their explosive transformations when they got on stage, made them soul mates. Vaughan didn't flinch and tried to reinterpret the master with two of the left-handed career's monuments, Little Wing and Voodoo Child. The first one was not bad, but you can't beat perfection, so I have opted for the second one, because it is an example of his two different approaches. While Hendrix attacks his guitar and amp to pull out furious distorted notes with the wah, looking for a kind of noise storm, Vaughan doesn't seek that sonic approach, but focuses on precision and technique. The guitarist was so happy with his version that Voodoo Child was the song he performed most often live.
Scuttle Buttin' (Couldn’t Stand the Weather, 1984)
The song that opened the second album of his career, Couldn't Stand The Weather, is an instrumental that doesn't last two minutes but can leave anyone exhausted, thanks to the energy that SRV puts into its touch and interpretation. Based on Lonnie Mack’s Chicken Pickin', Vaughan once again proves that he was the most intense blues guitarist of the 80's.
Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place In Town) (Couldn’t Stand the Weather, 1984)
The second album by Vaughan and Double Trouble was recorded in New York in January 1984. Soon after arriving at the studio, the producer, Richard Mullen, asked them to play something to test the sound. Vaughan began playing this quiet blues from the 1950s and Double Trouble followed. Nine minutes of magic later Mullen realized he had just recorded the first song on the album. That's how good Vaughan was, with several unforgettable solos in which the best flavor of the blues is mixed with light touches of jazz to give further confirmation of his enormous talent as a guitarist.
Tightrope (In Step, 1989)
Released on his latest studio album, In Step, Tightrope is a remarkable original R&B composition with two excellent solos, although the first is truly special, a marvelous waterfall of notes, mixed with those expressive silences that only he knew how to place. The sound he achieves here shows that Vaughan continued to (incredibly) improve over time.
Riviera Paradise (In Step, 1989)
The last song from his last studio album, Riviera Paradise, unfortunately became a very classy farewell, with his Strat played cleanly, with a wonderful tone, and a style which shows that the guitarist had studied Wes Montgomery as well as Albert King.