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Biography: Stevie Ray Vaughan

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In any genre of music, you don't find many Texans more well known than Dallas's own Stevie Ray Vaughan!

 

Vaughan is credited with being at the forefront of the blues revival of the 1980s.

 

Vaughn was born in Oak Cliff, Texas, on October 3rd, 1954 to Jimmie Lee "Big Jim" and Martha Jean Vaughan.  He and his older brother Jimmie spent their childhood moving all around the north Texas area as their father, who was in the asbestos business, migrated for work.  Stevie Ray got his first guitar at the age of seven and grew up listening to blues musicians like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and most noticeably Lonnie Mack.  Along with Mack, Vaughan credited guitarist Jimi Hendrix as his chief influence musically.  By the age of ten, Vaughan was performing at talent contests and other small venues.  A few years later, the young musician was recruited into a band called Cast of Thousands who were featured on a compilation album called A New Hi.  During this time, Vaughan put together a band called Blackbird and before long he dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen to pursue music full time.

 

Vaughan met Lenora "Lenny" Bailey in 1973 and married her in 1979.  Unfortunately, their relationship faded and they were divorced by 1986.

 

By 1972, Vaughan and Blackbird had made it to Austin and were performing regularly at bars and clubs throughout the city.  Blackbird eventually became Krackerjack and soon Vaughan left them to join another band called the Nightcrawlers.  That group broke up in the the mid-1970s and Vaughan went on to join a group called Paul Ray and the Cobras that was named Band of the Year in an Austin Sun readers' poll.  By this time, Vaughan was becoming quite well known locally and even got to play at the legendary Antone's blues club on 6th street with one of his heroes, Albert King.  Vaughan, who had mostly stayed out of the limelight, got a chance to front the Cobras as singer Paul Ray had to take a long hiatus due to health issues with his vocal chords.  It was not long before he decided to strike out on his own and form a new band, the Triple Threat Revue.  After a few changes in the line up, Vaughan was joined by Chris Layton on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass guitar and the infamous Double Trouble was officially born.

 

Vaughan played lead guitar for David Bowie on the Let's Dance album.  They met at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982

 

Double Trouble spent several years touring and performing before it paid off.  It was none other than international pop icon David Bowie who gave Vaughan his big break when he invited the 28-year-old to play guitar on the incredibly successful Let's Dance album.  Although Vaughan did not join Bowie on the tour promoting the album, his performance got the attention of legendary producer John Hammond who had been famous for working with such acclaimed artists as Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and too many others to list.  By the following year, Vaughan and Double Trouble had been signed to Epic Records and released their first album, Texas Flood.  The record was a smashing success, peaking at #64 on the US Billboard Top 200 and going double platinum.  After more than two decades of almost constant performing, Stevie Ray Vaughan had officially "made it".

 

Couldn't Stand the Weather was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's most successful album, not including the posthumously released The Sky Is Crying.

 

Coming off of the success of Texas Flood, Double Trouble toured with and opened for the Moody Blues.  Towards the end of 1983, they performed for a taping of Austin City Limits with Jimmie Vaughan and his band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.  A few months later, "Texas Flood" was awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording.  Another album, Couldn't Stand the Weather, was released in 1984 that peaked at #31 on the Top 200 and also went double platinum.  The tour promoting the album even took Stevie Ray and Double Trouble from Texas to Canada and Europe.  They even performed two sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House in Australia!  The album was so successful that it earned Vaughan two W. C. Handy Awards, which made him the first white artist to win "Entertainer of the Year" and "Instrumentalist of the Year" from the Blues Foundation.  The third album, Soul to Soul, added keyboard to the line-up and peaked at #34 in 1985.

 

Like his idol Jimi Hendrix, Vaughan was known for his incredible stage antics and unique ways of playing the guitar.

 

In 1986, Double Trouble returned to New Zealand and Australia, this time with the Thunderbirds, and it was on this tour that Vaughan met the woman who would become his fiancee, Janna Lapidus.  Although he had been married previously, the relationship with his wife Lenny had never been exactly ideal and the couple had unofficially ended things years prior.  Unfortunately, by 1986 Vaughan had become so dependent on cocaine and alcohol that his body was starting to fall apart.  In September of that year, while touring in Germany, Vaughan had to be hospitalized with a case of near-fatal dehydration from his years of substance abuse.  Not wanting to die by the age of 35, he returned to the States and checked into Peachford Hospital, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta, Georgia.  With the help of his family, friends, and Janna, he returned to the public eye a short time later, but this time as a sober man.  Some of his best work was still ahead of him and he had a new love in his life as well!

 

Talk about a line up!  From left to right: Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimmie Vaughan.

 

Now sober, Vaughan concentrated on his music and in 1989 another album was released: In StepIn Step was another smashing success, climbing up to #33 on the charts and going double platinum.  The following spring, the Vaughan brothers teamed up and recorded an album that would go on to be known as Family Style.  Unfortunately, Vaughan himself would not see that album's release.  On August 27th, after performing a series of concerts with Eric Clapton, Vaughan was in a fatal helicopter crash along with four other men outside of East Troy, Wisconsin.  According to Chris Layton, his last words to his band were "I love ya".  There was no foul play suspected in the accident nor were there any signs of drugs or alcohol.  The cause of the crash was ruled to be due to low visibility and simple bad judgement on the pilot's part.  Funeral services were held in Dallas with nearly 5,000 people in attendance.  Family Style, released less than a month from Vaughan's passing, charted at #7 and went platinum.  A posthumous compilation album, The Sky Is Crying, was released the following year, charted at #10, and also went platinum.

 

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chris Layton, and Tommy Shannon bridged the old and the new and changed American music forever.

 

From his humble Oak Cliff roots, Stevie Ray Vaughan climbed to the top of the music industry and became a legend.  He no doubt sits in Blues Valhalla alongside the musical heroes he worshiped as a kid.  After his death, Texas Governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3rd to be "Stevie Ray Vaughan Commemoration Day".  A statue was erected in his memory at Auditorium Shores park in Austin that has become one of the city's most popular attractions.  He was admitted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000 and Rolling Stone ranked him seventh among their list of the top 100 guitar players of all time - and even with all of the fame and fortune, Vaughan is still remembered foremost as a humble man with a big heart.  To learn more about about this indispensable Texas icon, visit his homepage here.

 

Discography:

(1983) Texas Flood - #64

(1984) Couldn't Stand the Weather - #31

(1985) Soul to Soul - #34

(1986) Live Alive - #52

(1989) In Step - #33

(1990) Family Style (with Jimmie Vaughan) - #7

(1991) The Sky Is Crying (posthumously) - #10

(1992) In the Beginning (posthumously) - #58

(1997) Live at Carnegie Hall (posthumously) - #40