Born on October 3, 1954 in Dallas, Texas, Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar as a child and became lead singer for the Texas band Double Trouble, which led to work with David Bowie and Jackson Browne. Vaughan had hit albums with his band before the 1989 release of In Step, for which he earned a Grammy. He also recorded with his brother Jimmy. Vaughan died in a late night helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, at 35.
Musician Stevie Ray Vaughn was born on October 3, 1954, in Dallas, Texas. Vaughan was at the forefront of a blues resurgence in the 1980s, bringing rock fans into the fold with a powerful, driving style of play that earned him comparisons with some of his heroes such as Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters. His four main studio albums were critical and commercial successes, rising high on the music charts and paving the way to sold-out stadium shows across the country.
Stevie Ray originally wanting to play the drums, but inspired by his older brother Jimmie’s guitar playing, Stevie picked up his first guitar at the age of 8; it was a gift from Jimmie–a hollow-body Gibson Messenger. With an exceptional ear, (Stevie never learned to read sheet music) Stevie taught himself to play the blues by the time he’d reached high school, testing his stage skills at a Dallas club any chance he could.
Well into his junior year, Vaughan had already played with several garage bands. But lacking any kind of academic drive, Stevie struggled to stay in school. Following a brief enrollment at an alternative arts program sponsored by Southern Methodist University, Stevie dropped out of school, moved to Austin and concentrated on making a living as a musician. To make ends meet, Vaughan collected soda and beer bottles for money and couch-surfed at various friends’ houses. The rest of the time he was playing music, jumping in-and-out of various bands that had semi-regular gigs in the Austin area. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first band was called Paul Ray and the Cobras, who played around Austin in the 1970s. Stevie Ray Vaughan would frequently hit the stage at the famous Austin club, Antone’s Night Club in its original location in Sixth Street.
Stevie’s sound was really like new at the time. His distinctive sound was because of several factors. First, he had heavy strings, GHS nickelrockers, 13-58, or 11-58 when his fingers hurt. Next came the pickups. The pickups came from 1959, but what was different about his set was that they were accidentally over wound, creating a boost in harmonics, and a nice smooth sound. Stevie played at first through a Marshall combo that was 80 watts about, but he then got two Fender(R) Vibroverbs(TM). These amps have a 15 inch speaker, which gives the sound the full range of bass, middle, and treble frequencies. He had his modified for more gain. He had an Ibanez(R) TS808 overdrive pedal (Ibanez recently re-put the ts808 on the market) Vox V-847 wah wah (modified with true bypass) and various other pedals including a Univibe, Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face etc. In the song “Leave my girl alone” (soul to soul album) he plays a Gibson(R) ES-335. He had many other guitars. Fender made a tribute guitar for Stevie, not the artist one it was one that was made to look EXACTLY like his #1 with the broken up body, cigarette marks on the headstock and everything.
Stevie was amazing….His playing style and sound, which often featured simultaneous lead and rhythm parts, also drew frequent comparisons to that of Jimi Hendrix; He covered several Hendrix tunes on his studio albums and in his live performances.
SRV cited Jimi, Buddy Guy, BB King and his brother Jimmie among his greatest influences. SRV’s blues playing style was strongly influenced by Albert King, who dubbed himself Stevie’s “Godfather.”
In 1975, Vaughan, vocalist Lou Ann Barton, bassist Jackie Newhouse and drummer Chris Layton formed Triple Threat. When Barton left in 1978, SRV took over vocals and the band was renamed “Double Trouble”( inspired by an Otis Rush song.) With Vaughan on lead vocals, the group developed a strong fan base throughout Texas. Eventually their popularity spread outside the Lone Star State. In 1982, the group caught the attention of Mick Jagger, who invited them to play at a private party in New York City. That same year, Double Trouble performed at the Montreux Blues & Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble was the first unsigned band to book the Montreux Jazz Festival.
While there, SRV attracted attention from David Bowie and Jackson Browne, and he played on albums with both. Bowie featured Vaughan on his Let’s Dance album in the songs, “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl.”
With some commercial viability behind them, Vaughan and his band mates were signed to a record deal with Epic, where they were put in the capable hands of legendary musician and producer, John Hammond, Sr. (Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, et al)
The resulting record, Texas Flood, did not disappoint, reaching No. 38 on the charts and catching the notice of rock stations across the country. For his part, Stevie was voted Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitarist in a 1983 reader’s poll by Guitar Player Magazine. Double Trouble set off on a successful tour, and then recorded a second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, which climbed to No. 31 on the charts and went gold in 1985.
More records (the live album, Live Alive and then another studio collection, Soul to Soul) and more success followed. There were Grammy nominations and, in 1984, the unprecedented recognition of Vaughan by the National Blues Foundation Awards, which named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year. He became the first white musician ever to receive both honors.
But Vaughan’s personal life was spiraling downward. His relationship with his wife, Lenora Darlene Bailey, whom he’d married in 1979, fell apart. He battled drug and alcohol problems. Finally, following a collapse while on tour in Europe in 1986, the guitarist checked himself into rehab.
For the next year, Vaughan largely stayed away from the high-powered music scene that had dominated his life over the last half decade. But in 1988, he and Double Trouble started performing again and making plans for another album. In June 1989, the group released their fourth studio album, In Step. The recording featured Vaughan’s driving guitar style, as well as several songs such as “Wall of Denial” and “Tight Rope,” which touched on the struggles he’d gone through in his personal life. The release reached No. 33 on the charts, and garnered the group a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Recording.
Vaughan was as much a fan of blues history as he was a part of it. He owned Hendrix’s “wah-wah,” as well as a small army of classic Stratocaster electric guitars that had colorful names like Red, Yellow and National Steel. His favorite—and the one he used more than any other—was a 59 Strat he called “Number One.”
In the spring of 1990, Vaughan and his brother stepped into the studio to begin work on an album that was scheduled to be released that autumn. The record, Family Style, made its debut that October, but Stevie never lived to see it.
On August 26, 1990, Vaughan and Double Trouble played a big show in East Troy, Wisconsin, that featured Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan. Just after midnight, Stevie hopped on a helicopter bound for Chicago. Contending with dense fog, the helicopter crashed into hilly field just minutes after take-off, killing everyone on board. Vaughan was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in South Dallas. More than 1,500 people attended the musician’s memorial service.
In the years since, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s legend has only grown. Just a little more than a year after his death, Vaughan was recognized by Texas governor Ann Richards, who proclaimed October 3, 1991, “Stevie Ray Vaughan Day.”
In addition, fans have been treated to a number of tribute specials and posthumous albums, including an early live Double Trouble record and a special box set of rare recordings, live shows, and never-before-heard outtakes. In a demonstration of the power of Vaughan’s music, sales of these newer records have more than matched the records that came out during Stevie Ray Vaughan’s lifetime.