Anyone paying any attention knows what a dedicated music addict I am. Recently someone posted the video of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s video “Change It” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMY9Wrh1oPA) on Facebook…my absolute favorite song of his that got me revved up all over again for my favorite guitarist of all time.
Life has truly blessed me in my ability and privilege to have seen some of the greatest guitarists of our time: Eric Clapton, Sir Paul McCartney, Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), Carlos Santana, Steve Winwood, Bryan Adams, Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Steve Earl, Robert Cray, The Edge (U2), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, BB King (twice – RIP), Neil “Spyder” Giraldo (bow to the queen spouse, Patty B), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Chris Isaak (several times), Charlie Sexton (with Bob Dylan), James Taylor, Richard Marx, Geddy Lee (Rush’s bassist), James Hunter, Jon Bon Jovi, Brian Setzer, Tinsley Ellis, and countless supporting musicians for so many other artists in whose concerts I’ve indulged.
But Stevie holds a special place in my heart and for some reason I’ve yet to define his death that still haunts me better than a quarter of a century on.
You see, Stevie holds for me a rather interesting claim to fame.
In February of 1989 I reveled in my first spring break; wide eyed and adventurous, I took my first trip to Dallas, Texas with a friend who drove the entire fifteen hours on I35 and mostly on black ice at that time of year.
On a Tuesday night we patronized the Dallas Hard Rock Cafe; a once-Baptist church converted into a musical sanctuary complete with red-carpeted marble stairs, brass railings, and three massive stained glass windows depicting the apostles of rock-n-roll – Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis & Chuck Berry.
Being a mid-week day, traffic was slow through the instrumentally-adorned chain restaurant. Not just slow – it was a morgue. Counting wait staff, there could not have been more than six people in the entire place. But the peace was welcomed and gave me ample opportunity to venture through the venue uninhibited.
From the second story of the establishment, I could look down upon the lower bar that was shaped like half of a guitar and stretched maybe thirty feet. It was one of the most remarkable things I’d laid eyes on at my innocent age.
From our front-stage table we had command of the entire place for nearly an hour before our stimulated peace was disturbed by a throng of cowboy boot-clad brutes that diligently began pulling the displayed instruments from the walls.
And they started to set up on stage.
Giving little thought to the adventure but taking in every movement to see what would happen next, I watched the bar quickly fill behind us and thanked lucky stars for the prime seat that we had unwittingly captured to take in the full event.
Within minutes the stage was set and the musicians were in position…Stevie’s band Double Trouble and he were preparing to perform right there in front of us and in fine impromptu fashion.
A year and a half later, the great Stevie Ray Vaughan was gone.
That night served as one that will live on in my memory for the remainder of my days.
And as Stevie would have turned 61 this year had he not perished along with Eric Clapton’s three band members on that fateful August evening in 1990, I think back to my first spring break and bathe in the legacy that such an artist has left for us to appreciate.
A true blues connoisseur, his guitar riffs are akin to the passionate love-making of Machiavellian proportion. Though the expression in his eyes rarely changes, Stevie’s hands stroke the instrument’s finely-tuned strings as though they were the supple flesh of an intimate inamorata.
Just over one year ago I had the privilege to enjoy his brother’s own music and meet in person the elder Vaughan brother, Jimmie, at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. Though not nearly as passionate as I perceived his little brother, Jimmie’s voice shook my spine and I closed my eyes to imagine THE Stevie Ray standing there on the stage.
The voice similarities were hauntingly familiar.
And being graced with taking the hand of the brilliant and talented man, complimenting him on being “timeless”, I saw tears well in his eyes and a hesitation come to his response when I expressed my appreciation for his trade and the devotion my musical appreciation had always paid to his brother.
It was truly moving.
There are entirely too many exceptionally talented guitarists that I’ll never have the pleasure to experience in person: Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Robert Johnson, Waylon Jennings, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Donald “Duck” Dunn (Blues Brothers fame), John Lee Hooker, to name only a few – but no one will live on in me to such an impactful extent as will the late great SRV.
To those brilliant guitarists I have the desire to see in our lifetimes – Aldo Nova (sweetheart, move your arse – neither of us is getting any younger. Get back on tour…just once), Jeff Beck, John Paul Jones, Taj Mahal…you guys are on my list.