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Stevie Ray Vaughan
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Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan (born Stephen Ray Vaughan; October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter, whose broad appeal made him an influential electric blues guitarist. To date, a total of 18 albums of Vaughan's work have been released. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Stevie Ray Vaughan #7 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and Classic Rock Magazine ranked him #3 in their list of the 100 Wildest Guitar Heroes in 2007.

He is often credited for starting the "vintage gear movement" in the 1990s. Because he collected many vintage guitars, amplifiers, and effects, the value of these items have gone up since they were originally made. However, due to devices such as the Line 6 Pod, and similar products that were designed to model different amplifiers and effects, prices have slightly gone down in recent years.

Vaughan's appearance is also well-recognized. Similar to Jimi Hendrix, he wore vibrant-colored clothing, scarves, cowboy boots, and a black bolero hat. He also used guitar straps made by a now-defunct company "Earth III", which is now called "The Main Strap Connection". Stevie's straps were leather with eighth notes embroidered onto the strap, and had several made for him.

Early life

Stephen Ray Vaughan was born to Martha and Jimmie Lee Vaughan at Methodist Hospital in Dallas, Texas on October 3, 1954, three years after his brother, Jimmie Vaughan. Stevie's father, whose nickname became "Big Jim", was an asbestos worker whose job carried the family to cities across Texas. Wherever there was an opening, the family would pack up and move to another city.

The Vaughan family finally moved into a small house in Dallas. The tension in the home was high, however, as Big Jim had a temper when he drank alcohol.

Big Jim and Martha loved to dance to Western Swing, and it was the boys' first exposure to music. The Texas Playboys, a country band, would hang out at the Vaughans' house often, playing dominoes with Big Jim. The Playboys would bring alcoholic beverages to the house and Stevie would sneak sips when nobody was looking. This started him on his addiction to alcohol.

When Jimmie broke his shoulder playing football when he was 12, family friend Michael Quinn gave him his first guitar. Soon after, Stevie got one of his own: a plastic Roy Rogers toy guitar from Sears, with only three strings. Stevie recalls that it also came with a set of blankets.

The boys, uninterested in taking formal guitar lessons, taught themselves to play by listening to records by Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds, and The Beatles, that Jimmie brought home. The brothers were also drawn to blues music and taught themselves the guitar techniques of blues guitarists like Albert and B.B. King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy.

At the age of 15, Jimmie was the lead guitarist in a local cover band called The Chessmen, and played gigs all over Texas. One day when bandmate Doyle Bramhall came to pick up Jimmie for a gig, he saw young Stevie playing along to the song Jeff's Boogie by The Yardbirds. Bramhall became the first to tell Stevie Ray Vaughan that he was actually good.

Early career

Stevie was playing in rock bands by age 12. His first recording was for a garage rock band called "A Cast of Thousands", and his style stood out. He had paying gigs when he entered high school: first with Jimmie's new band, Texas Storm, and then with his own group, Blackbird. Stevie would play late night sets at local bars.

Stevie's and Jimmie's focus on music caused their grades to drop. Their alarmed parents tried to intervene, but it was too late: in 1967, Jimmie moved in with Doyle. Stevie, left at home, decided to take a job washing dishes at the local Dairy Mart. Part of his job was to clean out the trash bin, which required standing on top of 55-gallon wooden-lidded barrels that were used for storing grease. One day the wooden lid broke on one of the barrels and Stevie fell up to his chest in grease--and was fired for breaking the lid. He decided that, rather than try to get another job like this, he would pursue his dream of being a guitar player like Albert King, his current favorite.


In early 1971, both Jimmie and Doyle grew tired of the fading music scene in Dallas and moved to Austin to give it another try. A year later, Stevie followed with his band, Blackbird. At 17 years old, he dropped out of high school during Christmas break and hit the road.

When he first came to Austin, Stevie and his band didn't have much money, so he would sleep on a barroom pool table, but he fit in with the more appreciative music scene on the east side of town. With blues clubs like the Soap Creek Saloon, Vulcan Gas Company, and Antone's, Stevie could trade licks with the blues masters he grew up listening to. Clifford Antone, one of the club owners, took notice and practically begged Albert King to let 17-year-old Stevie play guitar with him. After much convincing, he finally agreed--and was very impressed when he heard Stevie play his own licks.

Sharing riffs with these admired masters was Stevie's dream come true, but making a career in Austin turned out to be tougher than he had thought. In 1973, he joined a promising rock group called Krackerjack, which included future bassist Tommy Shannon, whom he met after a stint at a club in Dallas called "The Fog." Stevie quit when the leader decided they should wear makeup on stage. The next year, he was asked to join Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers, a blues band that included singer Doyle Bramhall. The Nightcrawlers drove from Texas to Los Angeles to record an album, but Benno's record label rejected the tapes, and Stevie traveled back to Texas.

In 1975, he hooked up with another popular Austin group, Paul Ray and the Cobras, a two-guitar band with Stevie in the background. After two years, they only had one single recorded, and Stevie grew frustrated and quit. He was still in the shadow of his big brother. Jimmie's new group, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, were the talk of Austin, and became the house band at Antone's. In late 1977, Stevie decided it was time to put together a band of his own called "Triple Threat," which included bass player, W.C. Clark, Freddie "Pharoah" Walden on drums, and singer Lou Ann Barton.

On December 23, 1979, Stevie Vaughan married a tough-minded Lebanese woman named Lenora "Lenny" Bailey between sets at the Rome Inn in Austin, TX.

W.C. Clark left Triple Threat in mid-1978, and Stevie renamed the band "Double Trouble." He then asked drummer Chris Layton to join the band. After an embarrassing post-show incident with drunken Lou Ann, Stevie became the new lead singer and guitar player after he fired her. Around this time, he hired a management company called "Classic Management" that consisted of manager Chesley Milikin, and financial assistant, Frances Carr.


Stevie's drummer at the time, Chris Layton, stayed with him. After almost four years, Jackie Newhouse was dropped from the band in the spring of 1981, and bass player Tommy Shannon decided he wanted in. In turn, he was asked to join Double Trouble. The first show with the new trio format band was at Joe Ely's annual Texas Tornado Jam, a music festival featuring a host of local bands held at the Manor Downs Racetrack, just outside of Austin. The Fabulous Thunderbirds were after Stevie and Double Trouble.

Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones saw a tape of the show and liked what he saw. He asked Stevie and his band to play a private party hosted by The Rolling Stones at the Danceteria club in New York. After the show, Mick and guitar player Keith Richards talked to the band about getting them a record deal. It never went through, however, and they went back to Texas.

Jerry Wexler, record executive from Atlantic Records, saw the band playing at a record release party for Lou Ann Barton's new position as singer for Roomful of Blues. He recommended that the band play the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Manager Chesley Milikin put in a call to Claude Nobs, the host of the Montreux Jazz Festival and would be the first unsigned act to perform at the festival.

The band was booked on a jazz acoustic night, a setup that involved an upright bass, piano, and generally soft music. The loud and powerful sound of Stevie and Double Trouble shocked the staid crowd. After a few songs, the gig seemed headed for disaster, as some of the audience members booed. Larry Graham, from Sly & The Family Stone was looking forward to an encore with the band, but unfortunately, it never happened.

As the band was backstage, devastated and disappointed, David Bowie and Jackson Browne, two celebrities in the audience approached them to say they had liked what they heard. Browne offered the band 72 hours of free studio time at his own studio in downtown Los Angeles. David Bowie also invited Stevie to play on his upcoming album, Let's Dance, co-produced by Nile Rodgers.

To be able to afford the gasoline to take them to Los Angeles, the band booked a small tour at various clubs like Fitzgerald's in Houston and The Continental Club in Austin. When they finally traveled to Los Angeles during Thanksgiving weekend in 1982, they recorded an album's worth of songs: eight songs the first day; two the next. The band then went back to Texas, where Stevie recorded the vocals at Riverside Sound in Austin.

Success and Fame

Texas Flood

The band sent the tapes to legendary talent scout, John Hammond, Sr., a veteran of the record business who discovered Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, and Bob Dylan. He got the band a major contract with Epic Records. The mixed and mastered tapes were morphed into an album called Texas Flood. On June 3, 1983, the album made it to #38 on the Billboard 200 charts, received positive reviews, and sold over 500,000 units. After years of hard work, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were an "overnight" success. The band then embarked on a successful tour for the album.

Note: On March 3, 2009, Harmonix released Texas Flood in its entirety as downloadable content for the game Rock Band via Xbox Live. The Playstation Network was set to receive it on March 5, 2009.

Couldn't Stand the Weather

In mid-December 1983, the band took two weeks off to write material for a new album. They went to The Power Station in New York City to record in January 1984. The new album took two weeks to record, but finally finished and released the album as Couldn't Stand the Weather. They went on another successful tour and played many TV shows including Solid Gold and Rockpalast.

On October 4, 1984, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble played a show at Carnegie Hall in New York City to celebrate his 30th birthday. The whole eleven-piece band wore custom-tailored velvet mariachi suits. The band rehearsed for two weeks to prepare for the show. After the show, MTV invited all the guests to a local club where the new TV network would throw an after-party.

With several more shows after Carnegie Hall, the band flew to Australia and played two sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House. Then it was off to New Zealand, playing many concert halls and stadiums in the area. While in New Zealand, Stevie received word that he won two W.C. Handy Blues Awards: one for Entertainer of the Year and one Instrumentalist of the Year. He was the first white person to win both awards. He was presented the awards on November 18, 1984, and played with B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Robert Cray, and Albert King. The ceremony was held at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis on Beale Street.

Soul to Soul

By early 1985, Stevie's performance contract required a fifth of Scotch in his dressing room each night and his cocaine habit rose to 4 grams/day. He would dissolve the cocaine in a glass of Scotch or Crown Royal every morning as a morning pick-me-up. This ritual lasted for 9 years.

Stevie and Double Trouble went to the Dallas Sound Labs in March 1985. After a couple of weeks of trying to come up with new material, it became evident that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble needed a stronger rhythm section. Desperate, he got in touch with Reese Wynans, an ace keyboard player who was playing with Delbert McClinton at the time.

On April 10, 1985, Stevie Ray was asked to play The Star Spangled Banner on opening day at the Houston Astrodome. Unfortunately, he didn't get a good audience response, as he played his rendition with slide guitar work.

The new quartet finished the album in May 1985 and was named Soul to Soul. The album was released on September 30, 1985, but lacked the fire and bite of previous albums.

By 1986, the band was touring the world non-stop, sometimes sharing the bill with The Fabulous Thunderbirds--and Stevie's cocaine habit had risen to 7 grams a day. Both bands were on tour in New Zealand when Stevie saw a group of schoolgirls walking back to a nearby hotel. He homed in on one girl in particular: stunningly beautiful 17-year-old model Janna Lapidus. The olive-skinned brunette had fled from Russia with her parents when she was a child. Stevie took Janna with him on tour in Australia.

Live Alive

In mid-1986, Stevie and Double Trouble were ordered to record another album. As they didn't wish to do this, they decided to record a live album. They would simply record shows at the Austin Opera House and the Starfest in Dallas. This proved to be more difficult than they thought: many of the recordings were flooded with technical difficulties that needed touch-ups or errors that needed correction. The band started booking studio time to overdub drums or vocals.

Stevie's marriage to Lenny was also on the verge of collapse. His fame, fortune, success, and attention pushed her to the sidelines, and she reacted bitterly. One night, after a long stretch on the road, he came home to find their apartment in Austin padlocked: the electricity was shut off and Lenny and their dog were gone. She had left with the money Stevie had been sending her frequently. This shocking discovery guaranteed that Stevie's alcohol and drug abuse would escalate.

Stevie moved to Los Angeles where he moved in with an old Austin acquaintance, Timothy Duckworth, who later became Stevie's personal assistant.

"Live Alive" was released on November 30, 1986.

On August 27, 1986, after years of suffering from Parkinson's disease, Stevie Ray's and Jimmie Lee's father, "Big Jim" Vaughan, died from heart failure. The boys rushed home to comfort their mother, but there was little time to mourn over the death of their father. Immediately after the funeral three days later, a jet rushed Stevie back on the road with Double Trouble.

A month later, on tour in Europe, Stevie's addictive lifestyle finally caught up with him. Drummer Chris Layton recalls being out in the street with Stevie when he suddenly dropped to his knees and acted confused, then began retching blood and bile. He said he needed a drink, but no drug stores were open. When Stevie had composed himself, the two walked back to their hotel in Ludwigshafen. Then Stevie began shaking, sweating and his eyes "were like the eyes of a dead animal." When the animation came back into his eyes, he sat up and quietly said, "I need help." Chris called an ambulance; the paramedics later described the trip to the hospital as a near death dehydration. Stevie was admitted under the care of Dr. Victor Bloom in London, the same doctor who helped Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend kick their addiction to heroin. Bloom monitored Stevie overnight to see his stomach reactions; it turned out that the whiskey was eating away his stomach lining, and the cocaine was crystallizing again and eating into his intestines.


After a failed attempt to get sober in London, Stevie asked his mother to fly the band to Atlanta, Georgia, where Stevie checked into Peachford Hospital, and Tommy checked into a hospital in Austin; both men spent a month in the Charter treatment program.

Stevie made a phone call to his wife Lenny, asking her to visit him in rehab, but she refused. In turn, he filed for a divorce which wasn't finalized until June 1988 due to a delay in an agreement between Stevie and Lenny.


By late 1986, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble went back on the road with confidence and energy as Stevie and Tommy now played clean and sober. On February 28, 1987, the band played MTV Mardi Gras in New Orleans with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Stevie also made an appearance with B.B. King for an HBO special that was broadcast at the Ebony Showcase Theater in Los Angeles, California on April 15, 1987. It was a lineup that included B.B. King, Albert King, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield (who died only a few weeks later), Phil Collins, Gladys Knight, and Etta James.

Stevie Wonder hosted a TV special called "Characters", in which a number of musical guests came to perform his hits. Stevie Ray played with Wonder on "Superstition" and "Come Let Me Make Your Love Come Down" and was broadcast in April 1988.

Stevie wanted to help others recover and overcome their problems with alcohol or drugs, as during the song "Life Without You", he would often speak to the audience about recovering and being there for others when they need love. On the road, he would attend Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings regularly, sharing the lessons of his ordeal.

In Step

By 1988, the band was ready to return to the recording studio. For the new record, they traveled to Memphis to record in Ardent Studios, a pro recording studio that has such clientele as ZZ Top, Tina Turner, and Led Zeppelin. Together, old friend Doyle Bramhall and Stevie began writing songs about walking the tightrope to recovery, including "Tightrope", "Wall of Denial", and "Crossfire". The album was named appropriately, "In Step", released on June 6, 1989. "Crossfire" reached the #1 position on the Mainstream Rock Charts. It was the only hit single that they ever had.

In the spring of 1990, Stevie and his brother recorded an album together, one that would feature the music they had grown up with. They recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis and was produced by Nile Rodgers. The brothers agreed to name it "Family Style". That summer, Stevie and Double Trouble went on tour with British soul singer Joe Cocker, touring places like Alaska and the Benson & Hedges Blues Festival.


To complete the summer portion of the "In Step" tour, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble played two shows on August 25 & 26 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI, while on tour with Eric Clapton. The shows also featured Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Healey, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.

After SRV & Double Trouble's set was finished, bassist Tommy Shannon and keyboardist Reese Wynans had already departed on a helicopter back to Chicago.

After Eric Clapton's set was finished, over a ear-deafening applause, Clapton introduced "the best guitar players in the entire world." One by one, Buddy Guy, Stevie, Robert Cray, and Jimmie Vaughan all strolled on stage with their Fender Stratocasters for an encore jam to Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago", a fitting tune as all of the musicians were home-ridden to "Windy City". After 20 minutes, they finished off the tune, the lights went up, and the musicians strolled off stage. Stevie was last off stage, as he gave a wink before he disappeared backstage.

Stevie talked with Eric Clapton about some future dates at the Hammersmith Odeon for a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Stevie wanted to get back to Chicago, however, as he wanted to catch a flight to his apartment in New York, which is where he was staying with his girlfriend Janna Lapidus. They were making plans to get married.

Tour manager Skip Rickert had reserved helicopters from Omni Flights to circumvent congested highway traffic. The helicopters chosen were Bell 260B Jet Rangers, which were enough for five people to be seated, including the pilot. Seats were reserved on the third Bell 260B Jet Ranger for Stevie, Jimmie and his wife, Connie. However, it is inferred that a miscommunication between Stevie's and Eric Clapton's management happened, as three members of Clapton's management took three seats. This meant that there would be one seat on the helicopter. Stevie was anxious to get back to Chicago, so, as the helicopters were starting their engines, he asked his brother, Jimmie, if he could take the last seat on the third helicopter. Since he didn't want to be separated from his wife, Jimmie told him that was fine. Jimmie and Connie would just catch the next flight.

In the pitch-black night, in very dense fog, the helicopters were clear for lift off at 12:40 a.m. Just past the lift-off zone was a 300-foot hill. Vaughan's helicopter was piloted by Jeffrey Browne, who was unfamiliar with the flight pattern for exiting the area over a high altitude and in dense fog. The helicopter was guided off the landing zone, flying at a high speed about a half-mile from take-off. It then, however, veered off to one side, disappeared into the darkness, and the helicopter crashed into the hill.

Everyone on the rest of the helicopters made it to Chicago safely, unaware that one of the helicopters failed to return. The only people who were aware of the crash were officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, who had been notified that a helicopter was down and sent out an emergency radio beacon. With the technology of satellites, they pinpointed the site of the crash and ordered ground crews to visit the location at first light.

At 7:00 a.m., sheriff's deputies arrived at the site and located the wreckage. According to observations, the helicopter had slammed into the hill at such a high rate of speed and it happened so quickly that Stevie and the passengers never knew what hit them. Their bodies were thrown across a 200-foot slope. The coroner's report stated that Vaughan died of severe loss of blood due to a force-of-impact rupture of the aorta.

On August 31, 1990, funeral services were held for Vaughan in his hometown of Oak Cliff. Thousands of family members, friends, and musicians gathered to say goodbye. With brother Jimmie, mother Martha, and girlfriend Janna among the mourners were all three members of ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder, and Jackson Browne. Vaughan was interred at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.

Grammy Awards
  • 1984 Best Traditional Blues Album for Blues Explosion (Various Artists)
  • 1989 Best Contemporary Blues Album for In Step (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
  • 1990 Best Contemporary Blues Album for Family Style (The Vaughan Brothers)
  • 1990 Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "D/Fw" (The Vaughan Brothers)
  • 1992 Best Contemporary Blues Album for The Sky Is Crying (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)
  • 1992 Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Little Wing" (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble)

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