Stevie Ray Vaughan made a big impact in what was a short career, sadly dying in a helicopter crash in 1990, after featuring in a concert along with his elder brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.
Despite living only long enough to produce six studio albums (two released posthumously), he breathed new life into the blues rock genre and left a lasting mark as a guitarist who has inspired subsequent generations. Vaughan drew his inspiration from the pantheon of great blues guitarists, like the three Kings, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix.
“I started out,” he said, “trying to copy licks from Lonnie Mack records. He was a really big influence for me. And my older brother Jimmie used to bring home records by B.B. and Albert King, Albert Collins and guys like Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy – all of ’em.”
He was able to synthesize all these influences into his own unique style rooted in blues, rock, and jazz, but yet was clearly in the tradition of the great Texas bluesmen. John Hammond (Sr.) said of him, “Stevie is in that great Texas tradition of T-Bone Walker. It’s a wonderful tradition. T-Bone, who I first saw back in 1936, used to do what Stevie does now – play the guitar behind his neck and everything else.”
Although, refreshingly at that time in the early 80s, Vaughan eschewed technological musical wizardly, dry ice, fog and lasers, stripping the music back to its essentials of guitar, bass and drums, he was an extravagant on-stage showman, with his distinctive Tex-Mex bandido get-up and pained guitar-solo face. But it was his virtuosic guitar playing that rightly endeared him to fans, both during his life-time and after.
Texas Flood was the debut studio album by Vaughan and his Double Trouble band mates, Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums. Released on June 13, 1983 by Epic Records, the album took its name from one of the record’s songs, first recorded by Larry Davis in 1958. There are ten songs on the original release, with six written by Vaughan. The CD version released in 1999 added 5 more songs.
Jackson Browne had seen and been impressed with the band when it played the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer of 1982. After taking up Browne’s offer of some days of free use of his own recording studio in LA, the band recorded a demo which caught the attention of John H. Hammond and landed them a recording contract with Epic Records. Texas Flood was the first album made, recorded in the space of three days again at Jackson Browne’s studio.
The album garnered Grammy Award nominations – the album for Best Traditional Blues Performance, and the song Rude Mood for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Critical reception was generally excellent, with Stephen Thomas Erlewine describing it as having a “monumental impact” and suggesting it “sparked a revitalization of the blues.” Texas Monthly called Vaughan “the most exciting guitarist to come out of Texas since Johnny Winter,” although Winter himself was less than positive, saying that he thought Vaughan didn’t have a distinctive style.
There’s no doubt about Texas Flood’s success, however – the album went to #38 on the Billboard 200 chart and went platinum in Canada and double-platinum in the United States, selling over 2,000,000 units. It became a 2021 inductee into the Grammy Hall of Fame in recognition of its historical significance.
The album kicks off with some rockin’ rock’n’roll with Love Struck Baby and you’re hooked straightaway. Before you’ve time to catch your breath, we’re into one of Vaughan’s signature tunes, Pride and Joy, showcasing his fine songwriting and, of course, his guitar chops.
The title track is up next, slower in tempo, but the guitar work no less fiery and emotional. This is old school blues, but it’s got a characteristic SRV stamp on it. As well as Vaughan originals, the album has a Howling Wolf song, Tell Me, driven now by Vaughan’s urgent guitar rather than the piano of the original, and a little more up tempo.
Oddly, Vaughan includes a children’s nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb, now transported into a blues setting but it’s largely an opportunity for Vaughan’s guitar soloing. We get a couple of instrumentals, too, in Lenny, a slow, shimmering electric guitar exercise, and Testify, with Vaughan going at break-neck speed up and down the fretboard.
For the most part, it’s breath-taking, toe-tapping (or dancing if you’re so inclined) stuff, all Texas brashness and explosive energy. No wonder it went down a storm and put Stevie Ray Vaughan on the map.
He was the victim of his own success, sadly, descending further into the drugs and alcohol addiction that nearly claimed his life before he managed to get clean and begin touring again in 1986.
He recorded his fourth album, In Step, with Double Trouble in 1989 – “I’m finally in step with life,” he said, “in step with myself, in step with my music.” That was to be Vaughan’s last recording – tragically, he was killed in a helicopter crash with four others in August 1990. A huge loss to his family, but also to the wider music and blues world. Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker dedicated their next albums to his memory.
Love Struck Baby
Pride and Joy
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Dirty Pool I’m Cryin’