Friday, August 27, 2010

Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan: October 3, 1954 - August 27, 1990

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the passing of one of music’s biggest and best: Stevie Ray Vaughan.

20 years. I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

On the morning of August 27, 1990, I was at my office when early media reports were starting to come in about an accident at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin; no names were mentioned, just that it happened after the Eric Clapton show the night before. Updates throughout the morning changed to “members of Eric Clapton’s entourage,” and then the possibility that Clapton, himself, may have been on board the downed helicopter.

Just the chance that Clapton could have been gone was enough to consider, but by lunch time, the news was confirmed: Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others had died when, in poor weather conditions, their copter crashed into the side of a ski hill moments after takeoff, just before 1:00 a.m. local time.

VH1 Legends – Stevie Ray Vaughan

I had just seen Stevie the month before, on a double-bill with Joe Cocker, at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. The July 10 Copps show was still fresh in my mind; as I’m writing this, it gives me chills just thinking about how awesome he had played, just like it did the first time I saw him, five years earlier.

It was such a tragic end to a life reborn: Stevie had emerged from alcohol and drug problems as a reinvigorated soul. 1989’s “In Step” was, essentially, Stevie’s ‘comeback’ album, and it burned with the fire and passion of a musician who had something to prove – to himself, and to the world. As a fan, you couldn’t help being in his corner, just like I had been from the first record onwards.

My first SRV experience was seeing him open for Dire Straits at Toronto’s Varsity Arena in the summer of ‘85. With its MTV reference, “Money For Nothing” was omnipresent and Dire Straits were breaking big time with their new “Brothers In Arms” album: so big, that they had to play four consecutive nights to satisfy demand.

Stevie was touring in support of “Couldn’t Stand The Weather,” and I was awestruck: after hundreds of concerts, it remains the only time I have ever walked out after a show and said “If I ever learn to play guitar, I would want to play just like that.”

The caveat here is that I have, probably, taken for granted that I would want to play at the skill level of my guitar guru, Eddie Van Halen; EVH’s music is so ingrained in my DNA that I never really had to think about it, let alone utter the words. Like that old line VH used to use: “What is understood, need not be discussed” (quoting Sammy Hagar’s pal, Maui artist Loren Adams).

On both counts, playing like SRV and EVH is, and remains, a pipe dream. I wouldn’t pick up a guitar to teach myself how to play for almost another 10 years after that first SRV experience (about 5 years after his passing), and today - 15 years later - I’ve grown to appreciate that playing music is about finding your own way in your own time.

For those who never had the chance to experience SRV in person, it may be hard to properly explain the magnitude of the man’s presence, charisma, and guitar skills. There was something otherworldly about Stevie’s playing: he was “one with the instrument” in a way that very few ever could be. Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen are the only other two players, in my mind, that have so fully incorporated the instrument into their beings, that you’d swear the guitar was another appendage to their body – you can’t tell where the guitar ended and their body began.

Watch videos of Stevie in action (and/or Jimi or Eddie), and maybe you’ll look for, and begin to see, what I’m talking about: a certain fluidity of being that seems effortless, the result of years of devotion to an instrument - a lot of work goes on behind closed doors to make it “look” so easy. But it isn’t.

Stevie’s talent was so great, and so rare: he helped put the blues in the mainstream spotlight during his time, transcending music and culture like few before...and no one, since.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: October 3, 1954 - August 27, 1990

Crossfire SRV & Double Trouble - Crossfire - In Step (Bonus Track Version

SRV & Double Trouble – Crossfire
Austin City Limits – recorded October 10, 1989

Riviera SRV & Double Trouble - Riviera Paradise - In Step (Bonus Track Version)

SRV & Double Trouble – Riviera Paradise
Austin City Limits – recorded October 10, 1989