This week’s Riffs & Rhymes Classic Artist is the leading light of the second coming of American blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Vaughan is often credited for the revival of blues in the 1980s.
With influences rooted in blues, rock and jazz, Vaughan and his guitar set ablaze every stage he ever set foot on, delivering performances with intensity matched by few guitarists of any genre. In a time where platforms like MTV were making popular music about elaborate visuals and physicality, Stevie Ray Vaughan was the messiah the blues needed to jump-start its second coming, and rather than turning to a traditional fountainhead of classic blues, the music turned to Texas.
At the age of 14, Vaughan’s older brother Jimmie dropped out of school and left Dallas to pursue a music career in Austin, Texas. A few years later, Stevie joined his brother in Austin, anxious and ready to let the world hear his music. After experiencing life in Austin for a while, Vaughan played for a number of different bands such as The Cobras and Triple Threat. Destined to lead a band himself, Vaughan’s success came after starting Double Trouble in 1978. With no recorded albums and no record contract, Double Trouble took the stage at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland after jazz producer Jerry Wexler heard Vaughan and the group perform earlier that year. Not long after, Double Trouble signed a record deal with Epic Records.
Five albums, six Grammy Awards, and loads of recognition and acclaim later, Vaughan and Double Trouble were being hailed as saviors of American blues music. However, the high life was not one that suited Vaughan well, as he frequented drug and alcohol abuse throughout his career. After going through rehab, Vaughan returned with Double Trouble’s “In Step” (1989), a landmark record considered a high point for his illustrious career.
In August 1990, Stevie Ray Vaughan died tragically in a helicopter crash following a performance with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and his brother Jimmie Vaughan, in Wisconsin. He was only 35. To this day, Vaughan remains a major influence for countless blues, rock and alternative artists, and the spirit of the sounds that once manifested inside his Fender stratocaster lives on through many.