I’d never heard anything quite like this. For a change, I was happily felled by the ‘blown-away’ cliche. By the time I got around to listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble’s for the first time on their sophomore effort “Couldn’t Stand The Weather”, the likes of Clapton, Beck, McLaughlin and Hendrix were already staple for me. But this was quite another and distinct style of playing, even while drawing inspiration from blues masters. Phenomenal fretwork, lightning fast picking, immaculate phrasing…all that doesn’t even come close to describing SRV’s playing. You need to hear all of that on pieces like the opener “Scuttle Buttin’” above from “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” or “Testify” and “Rude Mood” from that scorching debut “Texas Flood” and more to develop some notion of what I mean.
SRV brought back the blues to musical consciousness in a big way in the ‘80s with his passionate rendering of blues classics and originals. He always acknowledged his debt to his influences right from his debut which featured the incredible – not just because of Larry Davis’s emotive singing but also its undeserved relative obscurity – “Texas Flood”.
His interpretive covers aside, SRV had a compositional flair that was exceptional. And I can’t think of many blues/rock musicians who had such a mix of vocal and instrumental pieces as this man did. That he composed so many instrumentals was curious in that he had a very mature voice. He was in his elements when he played his guitar but he imparted to his singing the same passion that flowed through his guitaring. The smouldering “Dirty Pool” is a great example of that and so is “Leave My Girl Alone”, which is similar in sound to the superb “Ain’t Gone ’n’ Give Up On Love” but “Leave…” is a personal favourite for its brooding, menacing intensity.
Vaughan was not stuck entirely to the blues or blues/rock. You’d hear jazz influences cropping up in the stop-go rhythm opening of “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” and more so in the delightful “Stang’s Swang” where some of his guitar phrasing draws so much from brass instruments. Even a rare foray into country blues as on the poignant “Life By The Drop”. And always with him was Double Trouble, first as a trio formed of SRV and a real tight rhythm section with Tommy Shannon on bass and drummer Chris Layton and later becoming a quartet with the addition of Reese Wynans on keyboards.
A man of many parts, SRV played with rare feeling. Incendiary riffs like on “Testify” or “Scuttle Buttin’” had a counterpoint in the sublimity of “Riviera Paradise” and the tenderness of “Lenny”.
Some 26 years after I first heard him, I continue to be blown away by his music. The day after I bought the last album he recorded, “In Step”, he died in a helicopter crash. Just a handful of studio albums, many live shows and such a short, short life. One could sigh and ponder over what might have been or as I do, one could celebrate a brilliant musician. Yea, this house is rockin’.