Stephen "Stevie" Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 August 27, 1990) was an American blues-rock guitarist, whose broad appeal made him an influential electric blues guitarist. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Stevie Ray Vaughan #7 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and Classic Rock Magazine ranked him #3 in their list of the 100 Wildest Guitar Heroes in 2007.
Even though Vaughan initially wanted to play the drums as his primary instrument, Michael Quinn gave him a guitar when he was seven years old. Vaughan's brother, Jimmie Vaughan, gave him his first guitar lessons. Vaughan was later quoted in Guitar Player as saying, "My brother Jimmie actually was one of the biggest influences on my playing. He really was the reason I started to play, watching him and seeing what could be done." He played entirely by ear and never learned how to read sheet music. By the time he was thirteen years old he was playing in clubs where he met many of his blues idols. A few years later he dropped out of Justin F. Kimball High School in Oak Cliff and moved to Austin to pursue music. Vaughan's talent caught the attention of guitarist Johnny Winter and blues-club owner Clifford Antone.
During the early 1970s Vaughan played the Austin bar and club scene with the Cobras. After the Cobras broke up, in 1975 he started Triple Threat, which in 1978 became Double Trouble with Vaughan as lead singer. From Austin, their success spread throughout Texas.
In the early 1980s, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger saw Vaughan and Double Trouble playing at a club, and invited them to play at a private party in New York. This led to their acquaintance with producer Jerry Wexler, who managed to get them their first big break performing at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival. As a result they were able to meet Jackson Browne, who gave the band free time in his Los Angeles studio, and David Bowie, who had Vaughan play lead guitar on his next album, Let's Dance.
Soon a record contract with Epic followed, as well as their first album release in 1983, the successful Texas Flood, which charted at number 38 and gained positive reviews. After a successful tour, their second album, Couldn't Stand the Weather, charted at number 31 in 1984 and went gold in 1985. Their third album, Soul to Soul, charted at number 34 in 1985.
In 1988, Vaughan continued to tour with Double Trouble throughout Scandinavia and performed at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Vaughan and Double Trouble recorded In Step in February 1989, their fourth studio album, which was praised by some as the band's best work since Texas Flood. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Vaughan shared a headline tour with guitarist Jeff Beck in the fall of 1989. In his beloved Austin, the "Live Music Capital of the World," Vaughan was presented with a proclamation from the mayor declaring November 26, 1989 "Stevie Ray Vaughan Day."
On January 3, 1990, Vaughan gave a speech and addressed the Aquarius Chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. On January 30, Vaughan made his first appearance on MTV Unplugged in New York City. It was originally scheduled for Vaughan to do a closing jam with Joe Satriani, but Vaughan said he had to leave right away.
Vaughan had spoken two years earlier about wanting to help produce an album with his brother, Jimmie Vaughan. That time came in March 1990, when the Vaughan Brothers went to work at the Dallas Sound Lab, the same studio used to record Soul to Soul.
Around this time, Vaughan said that singing was becoming painful for him due to a condition he called "hamburger throat." He received acupuncture to his neck, but still had to take cortisone shots to relieve the pain, which caused his face to swell.
Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton recalls his last conversation with Vaughan backstage. He then remembers Vaughan saying he had to call his girlfriend, Janna Lapidus, in Chicago, before heading out the door to the helicopters, which had been arranged for flight (through Omni Flights) by Skip Rickert, Double Trouble's tour manager.
The musicians had expected a long bus ride back to Chicago. However, Vaughan was informed by a member of Clapton's crew that three seats were open on one of the helicopters returning to Chicago with Clapton's crew, enough for Vaughan, his brother Jimmie, and Jimmie's wife Connie. It turned out there was only one seat left; Vaughan requested it from his brother, who obliged. At 12:44 a.m. pilot Jeffrey Browne guided the helicopter off the ground. Moments after takeoff the helicopter crashed into a ski slope and all five on board were killed. Although the crash occurred only 0.6 miles from takeoff, it went unnoticed by those at the concert site.
The search for the wreckage began at 5:00 a.m., finally being located two hours later with the help of its locator beacon. The cause of the crash was believed to be pilot error. Chris Layton and Jimmie Vaughan did not find out about the crash until they returned to their motel in Chicago. The following morning Jimmie Vaughan was called to identify the body of his brother. The coroner's report stated that the cause of death was exsanguination caused by severing of the aorta. The severance was caused by high deceleration during crash impact.
Stevie Ray Vaughan is interred in the Laurel Land Memorial Park, Dallas, Texas.
September 1990 saw the release of Family Style.
The 1991 album The Sky Is Crying was the first of several posthumous Vaughan releases to achieve chart success. Jimmie Vaughan later co-wrote and recorded a song in tribute to his brother and other deceased blues guitarists, entitled "Six Strings Down".
In 1991, Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, Vaughan's birthday, to be "Stevie Ray Vaughan Day." An annual motorcycle ride and concert in Central Texas benefits the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund.
In 1992, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation released the Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster, which Vaughan had helped design. As of 2007, the model is still in production. In 2004, Fender also released a limited edition exact replica of "Number One".
In 1994, the city of Austin erected the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake,() the site of a number of Vaughan's concerts. It has become one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.
In 2000, Stevie Ray Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In November 2007, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation released a second tribute to Vaughan, an exact replica of his second beloved guitar: Lenny. This guitar was given to him by his wife Lennora ("Lenny") on his 26th birthday and Vaughan was very fond of it. According to Fender, the original Lenny was a 1965 Strat that he saw in the window of a pawn shop that he was unable to afford. The guitar is sold with a strap, a case with Vaughan's name embroidered in the fabric lining, a number of brochures and memorabilia and a leather bound certificate of authenticity.
Stevie Ray Vaughan will become eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
Vaughan's sound and playing style, which often incorporated simultaneous lead and rhythm parts, drew comparisons to Hendrix; Vaughan covered several Hendrix tunes on his studio albums and in performance, such as "Little Wing," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," and "Third Stone from the Sun." Some blues greats say that "Vaughan can play Hendrix better than Hendrix himself." He was also heavily influenced by Freddie King, another Texas bluesman, mainly in the use of tone and attack; King's heavy vibrato can clearly be heard in Vaughan's playing. Another stylistic influence was Albert Collins. By utilizing his index finger as a pick a la Albert Collins, he was able to coax various tonal nuances from his amplifiers.
Known for his warm blues-rock tone, Vaughan characteristically used very heavy strings on his guitar ranging from 13 to 56-gauge sets to give a fuller sound which he tuned down a half-step to the key of E flat.
Musicians such as John Mayer, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Colin James, Jonny Lang, Los Lonely Boys, Mike McCready, Eric Johnson, John Petrucci, and Doyle Bramhall II have cited Vaughan as an influence.
He usually set the Tube Screamer with the "Drive" knob low, but tone and level high as a "boost" for leads.
Stevie used a Leslie-style speaker cabinet called a Fender Vibratone, but had a rotating styrofoam cone with 2 slots in the sides around a stationary speaker. This made the guitar sound like an organ, and can be heard on "Cold Shot" from Couldn't Stand the Weather.
A "Hot Cake" overdrive pedal was also briefly in his collection (similar to the Tube Screamer), as well as an Electro-Harmonix Hot Tubes overdrive pedal.
|1st||.011", .012", or .013"||Plain steel|
|2nd||.015", .016", or .017"||Plain steel|
|3rd||.019" or .020"||Plain steel|
|6th||.054", .056", .058", or .060"||Nickel roundwound|
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