Ephemeris. Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar acrobat

Ephemeris.  Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar acrobat

“Blues and rhythm and blues are a way of life more than a musical style” – Ray Charles

In Austin, self-proclaimed the city of live music, and one of the most important cities in Texas, the United States, the history of antiheroes emerges. Of those slaves transported from Africa to work in the cotton fields. Many of them were singers who brought with them their songs of epic stories. In 1928, the government separated the eastern part of the city from the west through East Avenue. In the east, the black population settled and that area was filled with bars where a great wave of live music would develop.

It is in that Texas where Stevie Ray Vaughan was born in 1954.

At the age of 7 he grabs his first guitar, which was a plastic toy. At age 10, “he knew what he wanted” and took the initiative to learn to play inspired by his older brother, Jimmie, who taught him the secrets of the Blues. Years later, it prompted him to enter the Texas music scene.

Musical influences

He was self-taught. The blues was his great passion. He was very attracted to the melancholic cadence of this genre, which he knew how to combine with the dizzying rhythm and blues adding subtle touches of funky and jazz, giving his creations a very special mix.

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With a prodigious ear, he began to compose with pure inspiration and guided by a deep love for Hendrix, Freddy King, Robert Johnson, the grandfather of the RNR, the one of the legend, the one who had sold his soul to the devil on the crossroad in exchange for the blues. , among other great artists of “Black Music”.

Musical career

In adolescence he played in several garage bands and in 1975 he left school to settle in Austin, where he formed Double Trouble. With Vaughan on vocals, the band builds a good fan base throughout Texas. In 1982, the band caught the attention of Mick Jagger, who invited them to New York to host a private party. That same year, his manager after much insistence, convinced the organizers of the famous Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland so that Steve, a complete stranger, would open the festival.

Makes an impeccable set of blues classics and own compositions. It is a contradictory show. The audience was essentially jazz although the festival was opening up to other genres. The audience is divided between those who get up from their chairs to dance and clap and those who boo, perhaps because of the first impression generated by the combination of the crushing sound, his baritone tone of voice and the appearance of Steve: cigar in the Mouth, Texan hat, boots and his completely unpainted Stratocaster, the cigarette-burned headstock that Vaughan used while playing during the years of touring the Texas suburbs.

Despite everything, the musician remains calm and focused throughout the show, interacting with the audience between tracks. There is the complete record of that day that we are fortunate to enjoy until today.

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His manager says: “Steve was confused when he got off the stage, we didn’t know what he was thinking, we just kept quiet, he handed over his guitar and went to the dressing room. He was silent for a long time with the palms of his hand covering his face, his head was a thousand miles away ”. That show marks a before and after in his professional life. It was hailed by critics as the revelation of the festival.

Then David Bowie invites you to play on his album Let’s dance attracted by the musical ability of the bluesman. So it was that he signed with the Epic record company, recorded several plates and went on tour in Europe.

His collapse during the tour in 1986 forces him to stay away from the stage and go into rehab to detach himself from excesses. In 1989 he reappeared with his band and recorded his fourth album In Step, that is worth a Grammy.

Vaughan earned a place among blues musicians and a place in Austin’s legendary bars as he was undoubtedly at the forefront of the blues revival of the 1980s. Setting new standards in blues-rock and giving it new impetus to gender, from Texas Flood, recorded in three days in 1983 until In step, his latest album, in a world where grunge and hip hop were gaining strength.

A very particular sound

On stage it was where it shone the most, its sound was overwhelming. His ’59 Fender Stratocaster, “La Number One”, tuned to Drop, half a tone below standard tuning, to bring out bass, its heavy gauge stringing – 0.13 strings – and larger diameter jumbo frets, gave his guitar a giant tone. Combined with two amps with different characteristics, a Fender to bring out the clean and highs and a Marshall to give it more headroom and rawness but without removing definition to each note. The very particular sound was in his fingers and the rustic and furious way of playing. He handled his right hand with great dexterity with rhythms in the best funky style and the strokes of the pick were subtle or strong if he wanted to highlight a note or chord more.

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He was part of a generation of guitarists that emerged in the 80s that transformed the way of playing the guitar, with great scenic display and personalized clothing in the different rock genres, the so-called SHRED. It adapted without problem to the musical and modern sound changes to which the blues escaped as a traditional genre.

This attracted rock fans to the blues that once again filled stadiums, recording friction clips. Perhaps it was the best link, due to the virtuosity, dynamism and power of his music. His four albums were commercial and critical successes.

On August 26, 1990, Vaughan and his band played in Wisconsin, a great show in which his brother Jimmie and Eric Clapton also played. Around midnight, Vaughan catches a helicopter that crashes shortly after takeoff in dense fog. Nobody survives. Vaughan dies on August 27. That night the sky cried.

The passionate love for the blues that he embodied in his records and his live performances are his legacy.



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Ephemeris. Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar acrobat