Monday 27 August 1990, at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, Wisconsin, had seen one of the biggest nights of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s (SRV) career, playing on the same stage as Eric Clapton. SRV had been on fire that night and after the show he chatted with Clapton about the possibility of collaborating on a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert at the Royal Albert Hall a few months later. During that conversation, Peter Jackson, Clapton’s road manager, interrupted to say that the weather was deteriorating and that they had to leave immediately by helicopter if they wanted to return to Chicago. Vaughan was very anxious to get back that night and so grabbed the last spare seat on the Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter that was shortly to depart. The fog had grown increasingly dense, however, and the pilot, at far too low an altitude, decided to take a sharp left turn shortly after take off. It was the last decision he was ever going to take, as the helicopter ploughed into the side of a hill, which during the day was enjoyed by skiiers. Everyone on board perished. Vaughan, widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, was just 35 years of age. In honour of his birthday, Guitars Exchange selects some of his most stellar collaborations.
…with David Bowie
"To tell you the truth, I was not very familiar with David's music when he asked me to play on the sessions," Vaughan explained in an interview for Musician magazine. The Thin White Duke had seen Vaughan play at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival, when he was little known, and despite the Texan’s band Double Trouble getting a poor reception at the gig, Bowie, with his extraordinary nose for both talent and trends, had decided he was the man to work with on his next song. Bowie hunted SRV down backstage and they chatted for hours about Double Trouble’s music, Texan music, and the roots of the blues. “I was amazed at how interested he was,” said Vaughan. “At Montreux, he said something about being in touch, and then tracked me down in California, months and months later."
In fact Bowie showed interest in the whole band and had the idea that they might work together on not just Let's Dance, but on a full tour. The tour never came to pass because of SRV’s commitment to his own band, but SRV did go to New York to work with Bowie and Nile Rodgers on the track, which was recorded very quickly. “It was only one day or something for the guitar; he just overdubbed himself onto the tracks. But he only needed one or two takes; he just went in there all fired up and did his thing," explained SRV’s brother, Jimmie Vaughan. The track became a huge international hit and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s career was given a totally unexpected kick start.
…with Albert King
Shortly after working with Bowie, Stevie Ray Vaughan collaborated on a TV show with one his childhood heroes, Albert King. In Session was recorded live on 6 December, 1983, at CHCH-TV studios in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, when Vaughan was 29 and King was 60 years old.
This session is 1 hour 30 minutes of magic and is an incredible part of music history. The two jam and joke with each other as Vaughan shows his hero maximum respect. Left hander Albert King typically played a right-handed guitar, often a Gibson Flying Vs, ‘upside down’, so the low E string was at the bottom. As King himself said “I knew I was going to have to create my own style because I couldn’t make the changes and the chords the same as a right-handed man could.” King and Vaughan are so incredibly good that it is easy to overlook the rest of the band, who are as tight as a street drunk with his bottle: word up for Tony Llorens on Piano, Gus Thornton on bass and Michael Llorens on drums.
…with Dick Dale
In 1987 SRV played with legend and the King of the Surf Shredders Dick Dale on Pipeline, the Chantays' only hit single. Dale wears an incredible wig on the video and SRV plays his trusty Strat on an hilarious clip for a soundtrack to the film of the same name. It is not a given that sparks fly when you bring two guitar geniuses together, but it happens here, and the result is a classic version of the song.
…with BB King and Albert Collins
Two years before his death, SRV shared the stage with blues legends BB King and Albert Collins at the 1988 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Jamming to Vaughan’s own Texas Flood, the three demonstrate their unique feel for their chosen genre through three very different guitar tones: King plays a Gibson, SRV again goes for his Strat, while Collins selects a Telecaster. This was reportedly one of the highlights of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life, and it has to be said, he had a few…
…with BB King & friends
On 15 April 1987 SRV collaborated with the master of ceremonies, BB King, and an extraordinary line up of ‘friends’, including Paul Butterfield, Gladys Knight, Dr. John, Etta James, Chaka Khan, Albert King, and Billy Ocean, at the Ebony Showcase Theater, Los Angeles.
At this Blues Session, SRV was probably the youngest on stage and that alone says everything about his class and status amongst his peers. Often Vaughan played with a big hat that covered a large part of his face but nothing can hide the breadth of his smile here. At 2:22 viewers can witness a short but epic guitar duel between Clapton and SRV. It is difficult to imagine anyone but BB King being able to get so many blues legends together on one stage, and it is an enormous tribute to Phil Collins’ status as a drummer that he is on stage with them all as well.
…with Eric Clapton
The sound quality is not the best but this version of Before You Accuse Me (Take a look at yourself), recorded live at The Palace, Detroit, on 15 April 1990, is heavenly. Vaughan idolized Clapton but they both had huge respect for each other, and here the union is sublime. Clapton plays an outstanding intro and SRV then adds his gravitas to the song, before Slowhand varies the pace, and even stops dead at one point, at around the six minute mark, before launching into another solo. As Clapton once said “If you hand me a guitar, I'll play the blues. That's the place I automatically go,” - and he certainly goes right there with Stevie Ray on this blistering cut.
…with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray
This clip has been mashed together, and includes Tribute footage, but it is the audio which counts, as SRV plays his last show ever. Robert Cray’s guitar playing is sinewy and Buddy Guy's is manic… but SRV’s is simply breathtaking. To paraphrase one fan’s comment after listening to this jam: “Stevie Ray Vaughan didn't actually die that night; God just needed him for guitar lessons”
RIP Stephen Ray Vaughan (3 October, 1954 – 27 August, 1990)