After years of hard drinking and cocaine abuse, the great guitarist [lastfm]Stevie Ray Vaughan[/lastfm] got himself clean and sober in October 1986. He was 32.
Acknowledging that he’d hit rock bottom, the quiet bluesman once renounced the myth of the sainted rock ‘n’ roll casualty. “The lie is that it’s OK to go out in flames,” he said. “But that doesn’t do anybody much good. I may be wrong, but I think Hendrix was trying to come around.”
Vaughan, the closest thing to [lastfm]Jimi Hendrix[/lastfm] we’re likely to see, did come around. Sadly, less than four years later, his life came to an abrupt end anyway, when the helicopter he was taking from an all-star blues jam in Alpine Valley, Wisc., crashed just after takeoff. Aug. 27 marks the 20-year anniversary of Vaughan’s death at age 35.
At the time of the accident, he was set to release ‘Family Style,’ a joint album project with his older brother J[lastfm]immie Vaughan[/lastfm], who’d recently left the F[lastfm]abulous Thunderbirds[/lastfm]. Despite his wayward years, Stevie Ray was essentially a family man, remaining close to his brother and loyal to Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, the rhythm section that composed his backing band, Double Trouble.
“We were best friends,” Shannon recently told the Oklahoman newspaper. “I lived with him and his wife when we weren’t on the road.”
Shannon first met Vaughan when the guitarist was still a teenager, performing at a Dallas club called the Fog. (Coincidentally, it was the same place where Shannon had met his previous employer, guitarist Johnny Winter, with whom he would play at Woodstock.)
“I walked inside, and there’s this little skinny, pigeon-toed, big-eared kid playing his ass off,” Shannon recalled.
[lastfm]Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble[/lastfm] went on to record four studio albums, including the double-platinum 1983 debut, ‘Texas Flood’ and its 1984 followup, the classic ‘Couldn’t Stand the Weather.’ That album was recently reissued in an expanded, remastered, two-disc version.
Vaughan, who became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, also left behind several live sets, including the landmark ‘Live at Carnegie Hall.’ Released posthumously in 1997, the performance featured the Roomful of Blues horn section and [lastfm]Dr. John [/lastfm]on piano.
Two years after his death, Vaughan won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for his cover of Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing.’ The song appeared on an outtakes collection called ‘The Sky Is Crying,’ named for another of Vaughan’s favorites, the song by blues great[lastfm]Elmore James[/lastfm]. Vaughan’s life may have been cut short, but he lived plenty long enough to be lauded for his own take on the transcendent power of the blues.