Twenty one years ago today, Stevie Ray Vaughan boarded a helicopter after an all-star blowout show at the Alpine Valley outdoor amphitheater in Wisconsin. Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Stevie’s big brother Jimmie were all on the bill that day. For the finale, Clapton invited them all on stage to play an impromptu jam of Sweet Home Chicago — a Robert Johnson standard. Shortly after Stevie’s helicopter took off following the show, it crashed, killing all aboard.
Though Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life tragically ended at the peak of his popularity, his music and his playing style remains one of the most revered in the world. Stevie was an icon of born talent; never learning to read music nor receiving formal training, he learned to play by ear. And over twenty years after his passing, his monstrous contribution to the guitar continues to rival that of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy as arguably the greatest in the world. Throughout his life, Stevie Ray never stopped playing the blues. Most of his songs were standard 12-bar with a heavy Texas blues leaning. Blues men made up the cream of his influences, studying Albert King (who he later got to play with live in session), Buddy Guy, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, “Iceman” Albert Collins, and early Texas rock icon T-Bone Walker, among many others. It could be argued that Stevie Ray was the most successful crossover from blues to mainstream, but Stevie always retained the blues, propelling the genre to stratospheric new heights. The video below eloquently describes Stevie’s love affair with the blues: “For Stevie Ray Vaughan, blues is the essence of life itself; a musical tapestry of joys and sorrows, tragedy and triumph. For 35 years, he gave that music everything he had.”
The amount of press, books, and discussions that have been devoted to Stevie Ray Vaughan could fill a library — and justifiably so. To most, Stevie needs no introduction or biography. In truth, Vaughan often represents many things to many people, and today is an excellent day to remember the vast accomplishments of a giant in guitar, the blues, and music.
Below is a very short but touching documentary on Stevie, with discussions from bandmates and his brother.