On Sunday August 10,1986, I experienced an incomparable performance by Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, taking it all in from the main floor’s fourth row.
Bonnie Raitt opened the show with her charismatic stage presence, long red hair and a honed style of “guitar-girl slide blues”. Her set list was great which included a memorable cool, slow cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”.
At the end, she stepped up to the mike and warned the audience, “Stick around for Stevie Ray….he’s gonna kill ya”.
And he proceeded to with extraordinary musical precision.
On a darkened stage, amid a flood of cheers from an over-anxious sold-out crowd, Stevie took the stage wearing his trademark black hat. Looking down on the pedal board as his stage hand held a flashlight, he nodded slightly with the readiness of a pro.
Then, a piercing intro of five screaming chords tore into the air as the band cranked out “Say What?”, from the 1985 “Soul to Soul” LP. No wah-wah pedal made has ever worked so hard during a song like this one.
And his torrid version of “Mary had a little lamb” – a “playful” take on a nursery rhyme transformed into a blistering blues rock number that seriously jams, sounded like he was literally killing his stratocaster.
His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” featured the awesome keyboard work of Reese Wynans, who provided the funky groove rhythm to the track. Wonder must have said to himself,”Why didn’t I do that?”, after he first heard it.
The show-stopper, Stevie’s big tip-of-the-hat to Seattle and Jimi, came with “Voodoo Chile”; a searing mind-bending nine-minute trip into the darkest blues ever laid down ( A song so intricate and intense it took SRV one year to learn ).
Playing non-stop, he continued rocking it hard with “Pride and Joy” and “Look at Little Sister”, showing off guitar licks and rhythms with such dexterity and ferocity, the audience screamed in approval after each song, wondering what he could do next. ( You will definitely start dancing when you listen to the intro of “Look At Little Sister! Give it a listen ).
Stevie’s stage performance is best described as a master guitarist that poured himself into each song.
The only time the man spoke was just before his last number, touching the audience with some heart-felt advice: “Its tough out there in this world people…when you see someone who’s down and out, give ‘em a hand”.
He then played a beautiful version of “Life Without You”, letting his strat sing and cry the song’s message to the crowd that night. With an extended standing ovation that exceeded the theater’s expectations, Stevie removed his hat, bowed, waved and slowly walked off stage.
After that SRV experience, it took three years for his next album to hit the stores around June of 1989. “In Step” was another collection of his best material, featuring “Crossfire”, “Tightrope”, a passionate version of “Let Me Love You Baby”.
Plus, “Riviera Paradise”, an ethereal eight minute and fifty second slow blues piece that borders on giving the listener and out-of-body sensation. SRV was back in a big way and touring heavily everywhere, even making an appearance on the David Letterman show.
He was in control of his playing like never before and showed his natural talent every time he stepped on stage.
By March 1990 he was well into a major leg of his tour and headed to one of the biggest nights in blues music history; The Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin. It was the concert event of the year with a who’s who of guitar-slingers slated to delight and thrill a crowd of over 30,000.
Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. An amazing show was experienced with nothing short of extraordinary performances by all the seasoned professionals.
It was August 27, 1990, and the audience’s celebration after the incredible night of classic and rock blues show had not even started.
The concert’s electricity hadn’t dissipated, but Stevie abruptly made his move to leave despite his brother’s pleas to stay and allow the weather to break – the fog has rolled in thick as pea soup late into that Wisconsin summer night.
But as Stevie said, “I need to go,” Jimmie realized his little brother had made up his mind. It was a costly decision. The helicopter carrying Stevie and four others did not ascend to the correct altitude and a horrible scar was all that was left on a hillside.
The following day, Jimmie went to the site only to find his brother’s hat amongst the wreckage.
The music world lost a kind-hearted man, brother, and an unbelievable musical talent in a blink of an eye. We have his library of songs to hang on to, and the wonderful photos captured so well by countless photographers.
But it still doesn’t take away the hurtful sting of the loss to his countless fans.
One of my favorite quotes of his was, “What I am trying to get across to you is: please take of yourselves and those that you love; because that is what we are here for. That’s all we got, and that is all we can take with us. Are you with me?”
Born in Dallas, Stevie Ray Vaughan was only 35.
“Stevie Ray Vaughan did to music what Michael Jordan did for basketball. I guess you have to be at the right place at the right time and play the right note at the right recording session. Stevie brought blues alive at crucial moments, so far as I’m concerned. Because they didn’t explode B.B. King like that. I think every guitar player I know should have two Bs on his guitar – Stevie recognized the same thing. I’m telling you now, he brought so much to this music, it would take me longer than I got time to explain to you what he did for the blues.”
“He was well-loved. Stevie’s the American apple pie blues guitarist par excellence. He’s American and a southern boy; he had all the credentials to be top of the heap, and he was.”
“I don’t think anyone has commanded my respect more, to this day. The first time I heard Stevie Ray, I thought, “Whoever this is, he is going to shake the world.”
“Stevie Ray Vaughan was a fine player who developed his dramatic style that stands as the technical achievement of bringing his dedication and feeling onto a stage and into the soul. A great guitarist, a great brother, and a great Texan.”
Billy F. Gibbons
“We jammed many times, and I had so much fun. I really miss him. He did some Jimi Hendrix, some Albert King, a little of me, but he had it together for what he wanted to do. He had a direction, and he made it work. The kids really liked his fire.”
“People didn’t pay attention to the blues. Vaughan was one of the ones who changed that.”
José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous columns HERE