stevie’s influence

One journalist friend of mine characterizes Austin, Texas as a blueberry floating in a bowl of red soup (he lives near Dallas). Blueberries notwithstanding, Austin has always been a mecca for liberals and its entertainment districts are world famous, namely 6th Street and Congress Avenue. A lot of famous singers, including Willie Nelson and k.d. lang, record their music in the city located in the heart of Texas. Not particularly known as the state’s center for blues music, Austin does sport its share of famous blues stars. The blues hit its post-WWII zenith in the blues revival of the 1960s, but its “death” was overstated, particularly so in Austin.

Once rock started outpacing the blues in popularity in the ‘60s, white establishments like the Continental Club on Congress Avenue and a host of other pubs on 6th Street began stealing the musical spotlight. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, composed of blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson, Keith Ferguson, and Mike Buck were big draws there. Jimmie’s younger brother Stevie Ray (1954-1990), played in a succession of bands, including the Cobras, before forming his own trio called Double Trouble.

“Double Trouble would quickly become one of the most respected and influential blues acts of the late 1970s and 1980s, cemented by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s masterful album ‘Texas Flood.’ The members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015,” states www.cleveland.com.

By the mid-1980s, Stevie’s career was climbing into the musical stratosphere, so to speak. In October 1984, his performance at Carnegie Hall seemed to signal that he had reached the pinnacle of his career. After that performance, he was quoted as saying: “We won’t be limited to just the trio, although that doesn’t mean we’ll stop doing the trio. I’m planning on doing that too. I ain’t gonna stay in one place. If I do, I’m stupid.” Nobody ever accused the Texas guitarist and singer of being dense; most thought of him as being a genius. He didn’t stay put either.

“It’s hard to overestimate the impact Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut, ‘Texas Flood,’ had upon its release in 1983. At that point, blues was no longer hip, the way it was in the ‘60s. ‘Texas Flood’ changed all that, climbing into the Top 40 and spending over half a year on the charts, which was practically unheard of for a blues recording. Vaughan became a genuine star and, in doing so, sparked a revitalization of the blues,” wrote Thomas Erlewine in the All Music Review blog. “It becomes clear that Vaughan’s true achievement was finding something personal and emotional by fusing different elements of his idols. Sometimes the borrowing was overt, and other times subtle, but it all blended together into a style that recalled the past while seizing the excitement and essence of the present.”

Still later, Stevie gained national and international fame as a top-notch blues guitarist before his untimely death in a 1990 helicopter crash. Stevie’s influence as a guitarist is hard to calculate since it is so widespread, nationally and internationally. One current bluesman, Grammy Award-winning Gary Clark Jr., told Texas Monthly: “He’s a major influence on myself and so many others. You can still walk up and down Sixth Street here in Austin and hear a bunch of young guitarists playing Stevie Ray Vaughan licks. And then the other day, I met a 22-year-old in Melbourne, Australia, that was hugely influenced by Stevie. It’s a global thing. He’s one of the most powerful guitarists ever. He changed the way people play [Fender] Stratocasters. I don’t know of any young guitar player interested in blues who hasn’t studied his licks and wanted to play as powerfully and dynamically as him.”

Wikipedia summarizes Stevie’s career as follows: “Vaughan received several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1983, readers of Guitar Player voted him Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitar Player. In 1984, the Blues Foundation named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, and in 1987, Performance Magazine honored him with Rhythm and Blues Act of the Year. He earned six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards, and was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time.

Stevie Ray Vaughan plays “Texas Flood”