Stevie Ray Vaughan Opens Up in His First Guitar World Interview from 1984
Here's Guitar World's first full-length interview with Stevie Ray Vaughan, from the May 1984 issue. The original story ran with the headline "Stevie Ray Vaughan: Hendrix' White Knight."
In an age where musical tastes are being shaped by technological innovations, where sensibilities are being assaulted by arsenals of Linn drums and Fairlights and Mini Moogs, it's downright refreshing to see someone playing straight from the gut again.
With his stripped-down attack and electrifying prowess, Stevie Ray Vaughan has refocused attention back to the bare essentials—guitar, bass and drums in a basic 12-bar format.
He has no light show to speak of, no dry ice, no fog, no lasers. He doesn't go in for the leather-and-studs macho posturing of popular heavy metal bands and he's not particularly adept at crowd manipulation as many of the top rock bands are. Yet Stevie Ray Vaughan is a hot property, perhaps the hottest thing to come out of Dallas since J.R. Ewing.
A longtime local hero in juke joints throughout Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Stevie Ray is now proudly waving the Texas flag all over the country in one sold-out concert venue after another. His formula hasn't changed much from his humbler days, but young concertgoers can't seem to get enough.
His secret? A soft-spoken, laconic man, Stevie Ray sums it up in three little words: "I just play."
Of course, there's more to it than that. Though he's not one to admit it, Stevie Ray is perhaps the most in-the-flesh exciting blues-based electric guitarist to come along since Jimi Hendrix passed.
Comparisons to Hendrix are inevitable. Listening to Stevie Ray's debut Epic album, Texas Flood, the similarities are all-too apparent. The title cut recalls the searing blues power of Jimi's "Red House," while the tender ballad "Lenny" is reminiscent of such lyrical Hendrix offerings as "Angel," " Little Wing" or "Wind Cries Mary."
The Hendrix influence looms large over Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yet, this is no clone act. The 29-year-old Texan is playing it sincere, offering up a heartfelt homage to someone who obviously touched his soul.
Says Stevie Ray of his alter ego: “I loved Jimi a lot. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist. He could do anything. I was about sixteen when he died. I could do some of his stuff by then but actually I’ve been trying to find out what he was doing moreso lately than I was then. Now I'm really learning how to do it and I'm trying to expand on it ... not that I can expand on it a whole bunch. But I try."
Like many of the young guitar enthusiasts who come to his shows, Stevie Ray never saw Hendrix perform live. Other than a few tips early on from his big brother Jimmie, he had no mentor to show him the way. He couldn't read music (still can't), so he didn't pick up any techniques from the various instruction books available on the market that dissect Jimi's technique.
Instead, he relied solely on his ears and an uncanny ability to capture the emotional essence of Jimi's playing just from listening to his records. He still relies on his keen ears to this day.
"I took music theory for one year in high school and flunked all but one six-week period," he confides. "That's because I couldn't read music and the rest of the class was already eight or nine years into it. The teacher would sit down and hit a ten-fingered chord on the piano and you had to write all the notes down in about ten seconds. I just couldn't do it. It was more like math to me.”
He adds, “A lot of the songs I write now … I don’t even know what key they're in. I have to ask somebody to find out. I can play it, I just can't name it. Jazz changes and all. But I don't know the names of what it is I’m doing.”
When asked how he communicates his musical ideas to the other members of Double Trouble (drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon), Stevie Ray again doesn't waste words: "With this," he explains, uncovering a recently purchased Fostex four-track cassette recorder. "Now I can just lay down tracks and play it back to the guys so they can hear just how I'd like it to sound. I did one the other day with two guitar tracks and a drum track. I played some drums before picking up the guitar and I still like to mess around with them. So now I can use this Fostex and get down pretty much what I want, then let the guys take it from there."
When asked if his current interest in the Fostex might eventually lead to some experiments in multiple-guitar parts, a la Hendrix' Rainbow Bridge rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Stevie Ray laughs and says, "I'll get there ... I gotta figure out how to run this thing first."
For the young crowds flocking to see this new Texas sensation, Stevie Ray is providing a vital link to something they missed out on. He's carrying on the Hendrix legacy. Maybe these kids have seen pictures of Jimi and they may have attended midnight screenings of Monterey Pop or Woodstock or Jimi Plays Berkeley.
They certainly have purchased his records. But they never saw the late guitar hero in the flesh. They never felt the sheer electricity that Jimi could generate. But now they can get those vicarious thrills through Stevie Ray. His reverence for Hendrix becomes all the more obvious when you see him in action. His renditions of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" and his extended jam on Jimi's freaked-out classic, "Third Stone From the Sun," are so emotionally charged and infused with the raw spirit of Hendrix that it makes your pulse quicken.