It was twenty years ago today when Stevie Ray Vaughn died.
My first reaction was a selfish scoff; I had bought tickets earlier that year to see Eric Clapton at the Hilton Coliseum-an immensely boring affair-and then a couple of friends announced that they were seeing Clapton at Alpine Valley with Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Since I’d already seen Clapton earlier, was broke, and extremely stupid-I passed on the Alpine Valley gig.
When my friends started to return back from the show, the news of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s passing began showing up on Headline News.
They couldn’t get through their heads that the man they had just seen performing less than a day before was now gone.
The blues was a rare commodity in the early 80’s, it was resigned to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” in Risky Business and Anthony Michael Hall doing the absolute worse impersonation of an old black dude for Weird Science.
So for a white guy from Austin to suddenly burst on the scene playing some guitar heroic blues, a lot of us took notice. Texas Flood wasn’t where I started-I waited until Couldn’t Stand The Weather because the title track was catchier and because we figured out he was the dude who played on Let’s Dance.
I thought Soul To Soul was good too-particularly that song “Change It.” Still have both of those. Bet I haven’t played them in years either.
The last two records before he died is where I lost interest. Vaughn had become a staple of rock radio by then. It wasn’t that they were bad songs, they were just songs that even your Dad began to recognize.
And the moment that Dad notices, is the moment your discovery becomes irrelevant.
His death also created a wealth of region Stevie Ray Vaughan “tribute” performers. You know, white dudes who wore a Billy Jack hat and Western duster coat. They’d do an hour set of blues classics like “Sweet Home Chicago” and a medley of Stevie Ray Vaughan songs.
But one of the things I thought would happen, so far hasn’t. A Stevie Ray Vaughan replacement. At first I thought Chris Whitley might be the new one, but then he drifted off into challenging music that my Dad certainly wouldn’t recognize.
I guess this shows that Stevie Ray Vaughan was somewhat unique, a characteristic that I didn’t recognize back then. The image became a trademark and the sound became too commonplace to stand out. Today, you can expect to hear “Crossfire” next to a ZZ Top song and not notice.
The question is where are the new artists that we can put next to SRV?