For someone who spent a mere seven and a half years as a heavy player on the world stage, Texas guitar-slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan left behind a wealth of recorded material—and one hell of a legacy.
In that blink of an eye between his incongruous appearance on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in 1983 and his death in a freak helicopter crash in 1990, Vaughan unleashed four indispensable studio albums that hijacked the trajectory of modern blues guitar.
Without the aid of light shows, edgy haircuts and goofy rock-star posturing, he introduced the MTV generation to passion-fueled guitar music—not to mention the work and importance of Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf.
He even had time to star in his own mini rock-star drama of drug and alcohol addiction, breakdown, recovery and triumphant return.
In the October 2014 issue of Guitar World—in honor of what would have been Vaughan’s 60th birthday (It’s about as difficult to picture SRV at 60 as it is to picture Hendrix at 72)—we looked back at what we consider his 30 greatest guitar moments. Our list digs deep into his six-string artistry, while taking historical importance and other factors into account.
In terms of material, we’ve considered everything, including his official studio work and numerous posthumous studio and live releases—basically everything that will be included on Legacy Recordings’ new 13-disc box set, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: The Complete Epic Album Collection, which was released in October, the anniversary of Vaughan’s birth.
We also considered his DVDs and videos available on YouTube—pretty much everything and anything he recorded with a Fender Strat, a guitar that, as reported elsewhere in this issue, also happens to be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Today we focus on three performances from Vaughan's October 1989 performance on Austin City Limits. These recordings represent numbers 5, 11 and 12 on our Top 30 list. Enjoy!
05. “Leave My Girl Alone”
(Austin City Limits, 1989; released on The Real Deal: Greatest Hits 2, 1999)
One of the most frustrating things about Vaughan’s tragic death in August 1990 was the fact that, in the last two years of his life, his playing had somehow improved. Vaughan’s (and the rest of the band’s) coke-induced distractions were snuffed out, and his portal—that magical gateway that connected the guitarist to his unique source of inspiration, divine or otherwise—was wide open.
A perfect example is this live 1989 version of Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone,” recorded on the Austin City Limits TV show.
Eric Clapton has mentioned how Jeff Beck “pulls” notes from his guitar; in this case, Vaughan is clearly “pushing” the notes out of his Strat, all in relentless, lightning-fast bursts that make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your life.
His ominous groans between phrases underscore the passion and excitement he felt during every performance, especially when he was able to experience his surroundings as a clean and sober guitar god. — DF
11. “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
(Austin City Limits, 1989)
“When I go out and play [“Mary Had a Little Lamb”], I can hear people say, ‘Oh, that's Stevie's number,’ ” Buddy Guy once said. “So I say, ‘Okay man, that's Stevie's number.’ But Stevie knows whose number it was.”
“Mary,” the first Guy composition to be recorded by Vaughan, was the perfect canvas for Vaughan and keyboardist Reese Wynans to slather with their mad skills.
Like the rest of this priceless 1989 Austin City Limits broadcast, Vaughan is simply on fire.
Between the song’s funked-up sections, he delivers a series of stellar, note-perfect solos that careen and soar with the aid of some nifty whammy-bar action. — DF
(Austin City Limits, 1989)
When Stevie cut 1989’s In Step, his last studio effort with Double Trouble, he showcased more of an R&B/soul approach than ever before, evidenced by the hit tracks “Crossfire” and “Tightrope.” “Tightrope” is a straightforward 4/4 groover with a James Brown–meets–Albert King type of feel.
Shot on October 10, 1989, for Austin City Limits, Stevie’s performance is extraordinary, displaying a combination of raw power, deep emotion and technical brilliance in perfect measure.
His Fuzz Face–drenched solo is crushing in its power while also beautifully melodic and precise.
The intense multi-string bent vibratos at the start of his outro solo (3:42–3:46) are just the tip of the iceberg as he closes out this truly masterful performance. — AA