I’m shocked to see that it has now been a full 20 years since Stevie Ray Vaughan and several others were killed when their helicopter, which they boarded after a sold-out concert, crashed into a hill on Aug. 27, 1990. But, despite his untimely passing, his contributions to music were never (nor could they ever be) forgotten.
I first became aware Stevie Ray Vaughan — like I did with so many other artists — through watching MTV endlessly through the ’80s. (This, of course, was back when MTV actually showed music videos, as opposed to the annoying reality shows they shove in our faces today. Do they even make music videos anymore?)
It took me awhile to really appreciate the kind of music he did, but I soon had to see that he clearly was one of the greatest guitar players ever. Even re-watching these videos of his songs after 20 years, his playing is nothing short of brilliant, and he strums that guitar with such amazing confidence that he makes it look almost effortless. I would definitely put Vaughan on a par with Eric Clapton as a guitar god, and many others have even gone out of their way to compare him to Jimi Hendrix. Is the comparison between Stevie Ray and Jimi justified? Absolutely!
Many Vaughan fans are celebrating this sad occasion by remembering him and honoring his unique style of playing the blues. KVUE News in Austin reported that central Texans near and far had come to visit the statue of Vaughan located by Lady Bird Lake to mark the occasion and honor one of the greatest guitar players ever. CBS News reported that Oak Cliff resident Jeff Castro is continuing the annual motorcycle tribute ride and concert he co-founded to commemorate Vaughan’s birthday in October, and that many in Texas are still working to get a memorial up for him after all these years. Even John Mayer weighed in on his biggest musical inspirations in his blog:
“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.”
One music video he did that had images that still stay with me all these years later was for his song “Cold Shot.” I have to say thank God for YouTube because I haven’t seen this video since the ’80s, and, while I remember what it was about, the title of the song kept eluding me. Wearing one of his many trademark Texas Hatters hats (thank you stevieray.com for that) which sheltered his eyes from view, he plays his guitar while his endlessly hungry girlfriend (played by the late Margaret Wiley) yells at him for not paying enough attention to her. Her fury causes her to punch his lights out, drag him outside of her moving car and throw him over a hotel balcony at least 12 stories high. That last image made the hair on my arms rise up straight, but, watching it now, I can see it was a dummy and not a stunt person who made that crazy jump.
Actually, the one moment from that video that always kills me is when Wiley snatches his guitar away from him and smashes it to a pulp. Without missing a beat or losing his cool, Vaughan picks up another guitar conveniently placed behind the sofa he is sitting on. Wiley obliterates that one as well, but Vaughan just as quickly and effortlessly picks up another. Hilarious!
Now his song “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” has a guitar chorus that still plays in my head when the weather gets rough or I’m driving in my car with the rain crashing down on my windshield. This is one of those pieces of music that I know will never leave me, and that’s fine. It’s a propulsive piece of guitar playing, and watching the music video for it again after so long shows what a confident master he was with any Stratocaster or acoustic guitar in his hands. Seeing him and his band, Double Trouble, being blown by gale -orce winds along with heavy rain was a great illustration of how none of these musicians could ever be easily defeated in the face of nature. That lightning effect from the video made me jump when I first watched it as a kid, but today it just looks cheesy. It’s probably even an effect you can create in your own garage.
But if I really have to pick one moment to best remember Stevie Ray Vaughan by, it’s when he did his acoustic version of “Pride and Joy” on MTV’s Unplugged. That show was pretty much the only thing that kept me watching MTV (if at all) just before the 1990s hit. Seeing him playing his guitar all by himself in front of an intimate audience resulted in one of the most musically electric moments I have ever had the chance to witness. To say his guitar playing was simply amazing would be the mother of all understatements. Seeing Vaughan enthrall the audience through his addictive riffs while strumming those strings was an incredible sight to behold. For me, it showed that Stevie Ray didn’t need any band backing him up (no offense intended to the members of Double Trouble) because the whole audience from that episode was completely enthralled with what he did, and they all wanted more after the song was done.
It’s sad to see that Vaughan found his biggest audience after he died. He was only 35 years old, and the major success which found Clapton always seemed to elude him. How nice it would have been to see his talents more fully acknowledged by music fans in general when he was still breathing. Still, to see his musical legacy be fondly remember two decades later puts a smile on my face. The man was an amazing blues guitarist like few others are or ever were. Vaughan’s music continues to live on in me, and his rockin’ tunes keep me moving forward whenever I’m down.
RIP, Stevie Ray Vaughan and those who sadly lost their lives in that helicopter on Aug. 27, 1990. You will never be forgotten…