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Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan on Austin City Limits
Stevie Ray Vaughan on Austin City Limits

Stephen ("Stevie") Ray Vaughan born in Dallas, Texas (October 3, 1954 - August 27, 1990) was an American blues guitar legend, known as one of the most influential electric blues musicians in history.

Life and career

After playing in a series of bands, Dallas-native Vaughan formed the blues rock combo Double Trouble with drummer Chris Layton and bassist Jackie Newhouse in the late 1970s. Tommy Shannon replaced Newhouse in 1981. A popular local draw, Vaughan soon attracted attention from David Bowie and Jackson Browne, and he played on albums with both. Bowie first caught Vaughan at the Montreux Jazz Festival where initially a few members of the audience, who disliked his hard blues sound, booed Vaughan, though most of the crowd cheered him, as can be witnessed in the "Live at Montreux" DVD. Bowie featured Vaughan on his Let's Dance album in the songs "Let's Dance" and "China Girl". Stevie Ray Vaughan's blues playing style was strongly influenced by Albert King who dubbed himself Stevie's "Godfather". Stevie had a distinct sound of his own which was partly based on using heavy thirteen-gauge strings. Vaughan's sound and playing style, which often features simultaneous lead and rhythm parts, also draws frequent comparisons to that of Jimi Hendrix; Vaughan covered several Hendrix tunes on his studio albums and in performance.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's debut album released in 1983. The critically acclaimed Texas Flood (produced by John Hammond) featured the top-20 hit "Pride and Joy" and sold well in both blues and rock circles. Follow up albums, Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984) and Soul to Soul (1985), also sold well, though they did not become as respected as the debut album. Drug addiction and alcoholism took a toll on Vaughan in the mid-1980s, and he started throwing up blood in the middle of the street while in Germany. He managed to struggle through 3 more shows. He checked into rehab in Atlanta, Georgia later that year. He managed to recover from his addictions and became a teetotaler. Following his return, Vaughan recorded In Step (1989), which is often considered as his best work since the debut, and it also won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Blues Record.

Vaughan memorial at Town Lake, in Austin, Texas
Vaughan memorial at Town Lake, in Austin, Texas

Vaughan's comeback was cut short when, in the early morning of August 27, 1990, he died in a helicopter crash near East Troy, Wisconsin. After a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theater, where earlier in the evening he appeared with Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and his older brother Jimmie Vaughan, the musicians expected a long bus ride back to Chicago. Stevie was informed that three seats were open on one of the helicopters returning to Chicago with Clapton and his crew, enough for Stevie, Jimmie, and Jimmie's wife Connie. It turned out there was only one seat left, which Stevie requested from his brother; Jimmie obliged. Taking off into deep fog, the helicopter crashed moments later into a ski slope on the side of a hill within the Alpine Valley Resort. Vaughan, the pilot, and members of Clapton's crew -his agent, assistant tour manager, and a bodyguard - died on impact. No one realized the crash had occurred until the helicopter failed to arrive in Chicago, and the wreckage was only found with the help of its locator beacon.

Stevie Ray Vaughan is interred in the Laurel Land Memorial Park, Dallas, Texas.

After the news media got word of the helicopter crash they had stated that Stevie Ray Vaughan and his Band were killed in the crash. Chris Layton (Drummer of Double Trouble) saw this on the news and had security let him into Stevie's motel room. Layton saw the bed was made and the clock radio was playing the Eagles song, 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling', which includes the lyrics "I may never see you again". Layton and Shannon then called their families to let them know they were okay.

Posthumous recognition

A duet album, Family Style, with his brother, Jimmie Vaughan (also a noted blues-rock guitarist and former member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds) was released in September 1990 after Stevie's death and was a popular hit. 1991's The Sky Is Crying was the first of several posthumous Vaughan releases with chart success. Jimmie Vaughan later co-wrote and recorded a song in tribute to his brother and other late blues guitarists, entitled "Six Strings Down".

In 1991, Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, Vaughan's birthday, to be "Stevie Ray Vaughan Day."

In 1992, Fender released the Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster, a reproduction of his battered 1962 Fender Stratocaster which he affectionately named "Number One" (sometimes referred to as "First Wife"), designed along with Stevie before his death. As of 2005, the model is still in production. It depicts "Number One" as it would have been brand-new in 1962, though when Stevie bought it in 1974 it was already badly weathered, as can be seen in several photographs of a young Vaughan. It also utilizes the black letter-script pick-guard, a polyurethane finish, Pau Ferro fretwood, and Stevie's initials on the pickguard. The Brazilian rosewood of Stevie's guitar was too expensive, and only about 50 SRV Signature models exist with the Brazilian rosewood instead of the pau ferro. Pau ferro does not appear similar to Brazilian rosewood while it is young, but it darkens with age and will eventually resemble what Stevie's guitar had. Some guitarists feel that a poly finish lessens sustain, but it protects the guitar better and lasts longer than the nitrocellulose lacquer that Stevie's guitar had.

In 1994, the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue was erected at Auditorium Shores on Town Lake in Austin, Texas.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named him number seven on their list of the "100 greatest guitarists of all time".

In 2004, Fender released the Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Model "Number One" Stratocaster Guitar, a direct replica of Stevie Ray Vaughan's primary guitar, also called "First Wife." A 1962 Stratocaster with that oddly contained 1959-stamped pickups, it possessed a deep, dark growl of a tone that was immediately identifiable. Even though it used all "stock" Fender Strat parts, about the only "original equipment" parts it possessed by 1990 were the body and the pickups. Over the years, Stevie and Rene Martinez, his guitar tech, replaced the pickguard, saddles and neck.

The neck was damaged during a stage accident, and a spare was used from another of Stevie's Stratocasters. After he died, the original neck was put back on and the guitar was given to his brother. This is confirmed both by an interview with Jimmie Vaughan as well as pictures of Fender personnel dissecting the guitar to create 100 Custom Shop "Relic" reproductions in a Guitar World Magazine, as well as several other online sources.


There are many myths about Stevie's stage equipment but here are the facts as reported by his guitar technician Rene Martinez, who worked with Stevie's equipment for many years.

For guitars, Stevie used some acoustics and a Hamiltone Custom, but he mainly used Fender Stratocasters. His most famous was a Strat with a Brazilian rosewood "slab" fingerboard; it had "1962" stamped on the neck and body, but "1959" written on the pickups. Unlike what was widely believed, he never used bass frets, but did use "jumbo" Dunlop 6105s. On this particular guitar, he also had a left-handed tremolo installed (it was originally a "hardtail" guitar, i.e. the bridge was fixed) and was known as "Number One" or "First Wife", at least once being called "Number One Wife" in an interview with Stevie. It had a D-shaped thick neck that was perfect for his large hands and thick fingers. It was taken apart by Fender employees to make 100 exact copies, and these facts were verified as can be read in an issue of Guitar World magazine. The pickups were never overwound purposely, but were from a batch of pickups made at Fender in 1959 that had been mistakenly overwound, producing "Number One's" distinctive sound. This also puts to bed the rumor that it was buried with Stevie, when in actuality all of Stevie's guitars are in possession of Jimmie Vaughan, his older brother.

"Lenny" was a 1963 maple-neck that was named after his wife, Leonore. It had a very bright, thin sound. Supposedly, Stevie found this guitar in a pawnshop, but couldn't afford to buy it. One of Stevie's roadies, Byron Barr, bought it and he and Lenora presented it to Stevie for his birthday in 1976. According to the story, Lenora was supposed to pay Byron for the guitar; she started a pool with her friends to collect the money, but it was Stevie who eventually settled the debt, with cash and a leather jacket. Its neck was originally a thin rosewood, but Stevie replaced it with a thicker non-Fender maple neck.

"Charley" was a Stratocaster built for him by Charley Wirz, a friend. Three Danelectro "lipstick tubes" are the pickups, and it had a hardtail bridge.

"Red" was a 1964 with a lefty neck that let him emulate the sounds of Otis Rush and Jimi Hendrix. This setup was able to give Stevie not only the sound he wanted, but the feel that lacked from a right hand neck.

He used a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, many different Ibanez Tube Screamers (most notably the TS-808), Vox or Dunlop Cry Baby wahs (one of which was owned and used by Jimi Hendrix), and at one point a Univibe, though he usually used his rotating Leslie speaker cabinet.

Amps were a blonde '64 Fender Twin, a 100-watt Marshall JCM 800 half stack, a 150-watt Dumble Steel String Singer, two '64 Fender Vibroverbs (they are consecutively numbered: 5 and 6; Stevie was very proud of having obtained such low serial numbers). He also had a pair of 4x10 Fender Super Reverbs. At some venues he also had several Marshall full stacks for volume.


Studio albums

  1. Texas Flood (1983)
  2. Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984)
  3. Soul to Soul (1985)
  4. In Step (1989)
  5. Family Style (with Brother Jimmie Vaughan as "The Vaughan Brothers", 1990)
  6. The Sky Is Crying (posthumous release) (1991)

Official live audio releases

  1. In the Beginning (Live, recorded 1980)
  2. In Session (Live, with Albert King, recorded 1983)
  3. Live at Carnegie Hall (Live, recorded 1984)
  4. Live Alive (Live, recorded 1986)
  5. Live At Montreux 1982 & 1985' (Live, recorded 1982 & 1985)


  1. Greatest Hits (1995)
  2. The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (1995)
  3. The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1999)
  4. Blues at Sunrise (2000)
  5. SRV (box set, with early recordings, rarities, hits, and live material) (2000)

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Stevie Ray Vaughan