Stevie Ray Vaughan, an American musician and one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 1980s, met a tragic end on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35. Renowned for his soulful performances and mastery of the guitar, Vaughan enjoyed a successful career and was even referred to as “the second coming of the blues” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On that fateful day, Vaughan had just finished performing with his band, Double Trouble, as the opening act for Eric Clapton in East Troy, Wisconsin. Following the concert, which concluded with a memorable jam session involving Clapton, Vaughan, blues legends Robert Cray and Buddy Guy, as well as Vaughan’s older brother, Jimmie, Stevie Ray Vaughan boarded a helicopter to travel to his next destination. Unfortunately, this helicopter crashed near East Troy, resulting in the tragic death of Vaughan and everyone on board due to blunt-force trauma.
- Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Early Life and Career
- Musical Influence and Style
- Partnerships and Collaborations
- Personal Struggles and Recovery
- The Final Concert and Fateful Night
- Tragic Helicopter Crash
- Legacy and Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Early Life and Career
Growing up in Dallas, Texas
Stevie Ray Vaughan was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 3, 1954, to Jimmie Lee Vaughan and Martha Jean Vaughan. His father worked as an asbestos worker, while his mother was a secretary. Vaughan developed an interest in playing musical instruments at a young age, learning to play drums, saxophone, and guitar.
Influence of Brother Jimmie Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s older brother, Jimmie Vaughan, played a significant role in his early musical development. Jimmie was a skilled guitarist who introduced Stevie to the world of blues and inspired him to follow in his footsteps. Stevie often looked up to his brother and admired his talent, which motivated him to refine his guitar skills and experiment with different styles.
Formation of Double Trouble
In 1978, Stevie Ray Vaughan formed the blues rock trio Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The band consisted of Vaughan on guitar and vocals, Tommy Shannon on bass, and Chris Layton on drums. Their groundbreaking sound blended blues, rock, and jazz influences, and they quickly gained recognition for their energetic live performances.
Throughout the 1980s, Double Trouble consistently sold-out concerts, and their albums achieved gold status, solidifying Stevie Ray Vaughan as one of the leading lights in American blues. Unfortunately, his life and promising career were tragically cut short in a helicopter accident on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35.
Musical Influence and Style
Influences on Vaughan’s Playing
Stevie Ray Vaughan was heavily influenced by a vast array of musicians, predominantly within the blues genre. Some key figures who highly impacted his playing include Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and Otis Rush. Vaughan often cited these artists as major sources of inspiration, incorporating their signature styles into his performances and compositions. By blending these influences with his unique approach to the guitar, Vaughan created a distinct sound that would define his musical identity.
Signature Guitar Techniques
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing exhibited a set of signature techniques that contributed to his recognizable style. Some of the most notable aspects of his guitar work include:
- Heavy string bending: Vaughan often employed deep bends to create a soulful, expressive quality in his guitar solos.
- Vibrato: A hallmark of Vaughan’s playing was his skillfully controlled vibrato, adding warmth and emotion to his phrases.
- Fingerpicking: Although his technique primarily consisted of a pick, Vaughan frequently incorporated fingerpicking for additional dynamics and articulation.
These techniques enabled Vaughan to demonstrate a high level of virtuosity on the blues guitar, setting him apart from other contemporary musicians.
Role in Blues Revival
During the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan played a pivotal role in the resurgence of blues music. At a time when the popular styles of the era overshadowed this genre, Vaughan’s dedication to mastering and popularizing the blues opened the door for a new generation of musicians to connect with its roots. With his powerful performances and emotionally charged guitar work, Vaughan cultivated a fresh interest in the blues among fans and musicians alike, significantly impacting the revival of this timeless music.
Partnerships and Collaborations
Working with David Bowie
Stevie Ray Vaughan collaborated with iconic musician David Bowie during his career. Vaughan’s extraordinary guitar skills garnered the attention of Bowie, who invited him to work on his 1983 album, “Let’s Dance.” This collaboration played a significant role in exposing Vaughan’s talent to a broader audience, helping to solidify his reputation as an outstanding guitarist.
Touring with Eric Clapton
Another notable partnership in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s career was with the legendary Eric Clapton. Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, joined Clapton in touring across several concerts.
This partnership provided Vaughan with invaluable experience and connections within the music industry. It also allowed him to perform alongside one of his heroes, allowing the two musicians to share their passion for blues and rock music.
Collaboration with Brother Jimmie Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan collaborated with his brother, Jimmie Vaughan, on the album “Family Style,” released in September 1990. This album marked the only recorded collaboration between the two brothers and showcased their remarkable musical chemistry. “Family Style” went on to become Vaughan’s best-selling non-Double Trouble album.
Throughout their careers, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan were inspired by blues legends such as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. The Vaughan brothers also collaborated with other notable musicians like Jackson Browne and fellow Texans, ZZ Top.
During Stevie’s last performance on August 26, 1990, at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Wisconsin, he shared the stage with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray. Tragically, Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in the early hours of August 27, 1990. The helicopter carried Vaughan, tour manager Bobby Brooks, agent Colin Smythe, and crew member Nigel Browne, all of whom had perished in the accident.
Although Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life was cut short, his collaborations and partnerships with other renowned musicians solidified his place in blues and rock history. His music continues to inspire and influence artists, and his legacy lives on through his innovative guitar work and timeless recordings.
Personal Struggles and Recovery
Stevie Ray Vaughan struggled with addiction for much of his life. His problems with substance abuse began in the early years of his career, as he attempted to cope with the pressures of fame and success. Vaughan’s addiction to drugs and alcohol eventually took a toll on his health, but he managed to turn things around in the late 1980s.
Road to Sobriety
In 1986, Vaughan’s deteriorating health forced him to face his addictions head-on. He entered a rehabilitation facility where he committed himself to overcoming his struggles with substance abuse. Through hard work and determination, Vaughan achieved sobriety and remained clean for the rest of his life.
Personal Relationships and Support
During his path to recovery, Stevie Ray Vaughan leaned on the support of his family, friends, and romantic partners. One such pivotal relationship was with Janna Lapidus, a model, and singer from New Zealand. The couple became inseparable, and Lapidus helped Vaughan maintain his sobriety. His bond with his older brother, Jimmie Vaughan, was also instrumental in his journey towards a healthier lifestyle.
Vaughan’s mother, Martha Vaughan, and his first wife, Lenora Darlene Bailey, were also important in his life. Their care and support undoubtedly contributed to Vaughan’s ability to face and conquer his addiction issues.
In conclusion, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s personal struggles and recovery demonstrate the importance of a strong support system and the determination to overcome adversity. By addressing his addiction issues head-on, Vaughan could continue with his life and career, and his legacy as an influential blues guitarist remains untarnished.
The Final Concert and Fateful Night
Stevie Ray Vaughan performed his last concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, on August 26, 1990. Vaughan was the opening act for Eric Clapton, and they, amid other artists, delivered a memorable performance. As one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 1980s, Vaughan’s talent was showcased during this concert.
Deciding to Leave by Helicopter
After the concert, instead of staying for the night at Alpine Valley, Vaughan and some companions decided to leave by helicopter to reach Chicago. They boarded a helicopter, unaware of the tragic turn the night was about to take.
Weather Conditions and Visibility
As the helicopter took off from the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, weather conditions rapidly deteriorated. Dense fog enveloped the area, making visibility extremely poor. The hazardous weather conditions contributed to the helicopter crash that occurred shortly after midnight on August 27, 1990.
Despite the low visibility, the helicopter tragically crashed near East Troy, Wisconsin, claiming the life of Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others on board. Vaughan was only 35 years old at the time of his death.
Tragic Helicopter Crash
Details of the Crash
On August 27, 1990, American musician Stevie Ray Vaughan was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near East Troy, Wisconsin, at the age of 35. Shortly after midnight, the helicopter carrying Vaughan, along with three members of Eric Clapton’s entourage, collided with a hillside just moments after takeoff. Everyone on board perished on impact, and the cause of the accident was attributed to not only the adverse weather conditions but also pilot error.
The investigation by the NTSB
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an extensive investigation into the crash. Their report concluded that the primary cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain proper altitude and clearance from the hilly terrain and his inadequate decision to take off in the dense ground fog that enveloped the area.
The NTSB report also pointed to lapses in judgment by the helicopter’s pilot. He decided to depart amid extremely poor visibility at night and ultimately could not see the hillside he eventually collided with. Authorities suggest that the pilot might have been under pressure to depart quickly due to the presence of other helicopters nearby and that this may have contributed to his failure to perform a thorough pre-flight assessment.
Some key contributing factors mentioned in the investigation include:
- Ground Fog: The area was shrouded in thick ground fog, severely limiting visibility.
- Terrain: The crash occurred in a region with hilly terrain that the helicopter pilot did not account for when taking off.
- Pressures: The presence of other helicopters waiting to depart may have led the pilot to make hasty decisions.
The autopsy report later revealed that the passengers, including Vaughan and MTV employee Nigel Browne, died primarily due to blunt-force trauma, eliminating any possibility that they might have survived initially or suffered for an extended period after the impact.
Legacy and Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue
In Austin, Texas, a memorial statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan stands at Auditorium Shores, a park along the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The statue was erected in 1994 as a tribute to the legendary guitarist and his contributions to the music world. It has become an iconic and popular spot for tourists and music fans to pay their respects to the late musician.
Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Stevie Ray Vaughan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. This prestigious honor further solidified his place as a pivotal figure in the history of blues and rock music. Vaughan’s innovative guitar techniques and soulful musical style continue to inspire generations of musicians and fans alike.
Tributes by Fellow Musicians
Numerous fellow musicians have expressed their admiration for Stevie Ray Vaughan and his incredible talent. In 2004, Guitar World magazine ranked him as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. Musicians such as John Mayer, who was deeply influenced by Vaughan’s music, have paid tribute to him through their own work and public statements. Publications like D Magazine have also chronicled the life and legacy of Vaughan, shedding light on how his impact continues to be felt in the music industry, even after his untimely death.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s enduring legacy is a testament to his immense influence on the world of music. The memorial statue, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and heartfelt tributes by fellow musicians all serve as lasting reminders of his extraordinary talent and contribution to the blues and rock genres.