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The 1970s was a declining period for the blues in any form, being overshadowed by progressive, glam and country rock, as well as funk and disco. But in the early 1980s, an incredibly talented blues guitarist and his band, Double Trouble, who took their name from an Otis Rush song title, exploded on the scene in Texas.The mesmerizingly adept guitarist and lead singer, Stephen “Stevie” Ray Vaughan, captivated his audiences with a unique style that combined both Texas and Chicago blues. He has been credited with being the main force behind the blues resurgence of that decade, though Albert Collins and Robert Cray also played important parts.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble busted the Texas borders when they became the first band without a record to play the Montreux Blues & Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1982. Earlier that year, Mick Jagger had seen the group perform and flew them to New York to play at a private club party. After the Montreux Festival, they had caught the attention of David Bowie and Jackson Browne. They were so impressed with the band’s performance, David Bowie signed Vaughan to play lead guitar on his next album, which would turn out to be Let’s Dance, and Browne offered the band free use of his Downtown recording studio in Los Angeles.
Bowie asked Vaughan to tour with him, but Vaughan turned down the offer to stay his own path with Double Trouble. Soon after, the band was signed with Epic Records and released their debut album, Texas Flood, in 1983. The album debuted to positive reviews in both blues and rock media and hit #38 on the charts.
In 1984, the National Blues Foundation Awards gave Vaughan the unprecedented recognition of both Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, making him the first white musician to receive that honor.
By 1986, Stevie and the band had written and released two more studio albums, Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984), which went gold in 1985, and Soul to Soul (1985). They released a double live album in late 1986.
In 1986, at what seemed to be the peak of his career, Stevie collapsed and fell off the stage while touring in Europe. He quietly checked into rehab.
He continued to push himself to complete the live album and an extensive American tour in early ‘87 which was followed by another stint in rehab.
He admits in this interview that he had suffered from drug and alcohol addiction since he was “7 or 8 years old.” It had controlled 25 years of his life and he knew he couldn’t push it any further.
“What happened was I ended up finally - I knew it was coming, too - I knew it was coming and finally I had every kind of breakdown at once that I think a person can have - physically, emotionally, spiritually - the whole ball of wax, melted.”
He spent most of 1987 away from music, faced his addictions head-on in rehab and came out clean, with a new lease on life. He made this very spiritual and emotional speech during a performance of “Life Without You” at one of his shows post-rehab:
You know, right now, the most important thing in my life is to make sure you understand that, first of all, I thank God I’m alive today, and I mean that. You see, I spent too many years of my life thinking that the big party was the whole thing. It took me quite a while to find out that the real deal is to be able to be enough of a person on your own to know when somebody loves and cares about you. You see, we are here, as far as I can tell, to help each other — our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our enemies. That’s to help each other, not hurt each other. Sometimes, to help them, we've got to help ourselves, so that we’ll know that they’re around in the first place. You see, it’s a big world out there with enough pain and misery in it, without me going around and helping it out by hurting myself, and consequently, those that care about me. What I’m trying to get across to you is: Please take care of yourself and those that you love, because that’s what we are here for, that’s all we’ve got, and that is what we can take with us.
In 1988, Vaughan and Double Trouble picked up where they left off. They released their fourth studio album, In Step, in 1989. The album won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Recording and went gold within six months of its release.
Musicians who influenced Vaughan’s musical style included B. B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush, Guitar Slim, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Chuck Berry...to name a few. Still, given all of these great influences, Stevie’s biggest inspiration was his older brother, Jimmie Vaughan.
A well renowned blues guitarist himself, Jimmie spent his earlier days with the band The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and continues to tour and release albums today.
In early 1990, Stevie Ray and Jimmie recorded an album together, Family Style. It’s heartwarming to see in this video that these brothers were so close.
Though Family Style was released in the fall of that year, Stevie Ray did not live to see it.
Following a concert at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin on August 26, 1990, the helicopter Vaughan boarded, bound for Chicago, crashed into a ski hill in dense fog shortly after its 12:30 a.m. takeoff on August 27. All five on board were killed. Stevie Ray Vaughan died at the age of 35.
For little more than seven years in the spotlight, Stevie Ray Vaughan won 6 Grammys, 5 W.C. Handy Awards, 10 Austin Music Awards, induction into the Austin Music Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame posthumously in 2000.
Vaughan has had more albums released posthumously than were released when he was living - albums of studio outtakes, live concerts, rare recordings as well as remastered re-releases, box sets, and videos. Most have been certified gold, platinum and/or multiplatinum.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s raw, intense, emotional and indelible music style continues to this day to inspire artists young and old alike.
John Mayer once wrote, "Stevie defined my love of blues music and my passion to spend as many waking hours as I could with a guitar in my hands....I never met him and I never saw him play live, but he changed my life forever....Stevie quite literally gave me a career in music. Today Im not John Mayer the famous musician, Im John, the kid from the Connecticut suburbs who discovered a style of music that spoke for me when nothing else did."
Image courtesy Twitpic.com