Stevie Ray Vaughan – (Part Three) – The Sky is Crying

When I heard “Pride and Joy” on the radio, I said, Hallelujah! Stevie Ray Vaughan single-handedly brought guitar- and blues-oriented music back to the marketplace. He was just so good and so strong that he would not be denied. No one was interested in this stuff until they heard Stevie Ray and I think it reminded them of what they had been missing.- Dickey Betts.

There had been some talk about Double Trouble opening for Bowie on his 1983 Serious Moonlight tour. This did not happen and depending on whose version you listen to it seemed to be for a combination of reasons. Some of them involved Stevie’s cocaine usage (which Bowie had kicked), some involved Stevie’s wife Lenny being a pain in the ass, some of them involved SRV trying to renegotiate his contract.

But a lot of it was just business, i.e, is Stevie better off touring with his band to support his own album or as the (possibly overlooked) opening act to the world’s biggest superstar? Whichever way it went, Stevie pulled out and Double Trouble embarked on their own tour.

There were a few interesting gigs during this time. This show – that by all rights I should have been at – happened in Montreal in August of 1983.

The band also opened up for the Moody Blues on a few shows. There was concern expressed that this might have been a mismatch of bands. Personally, while on the one hand, I think it would have been perfect if they’d been aligned with someone like the J. Geils band, a tour with the Moody Blues made sense. The Moodys were not and are not a blues band. But the average rock audience in that day had a diverse set of tastes and I bet a good number of them were blues fans.

In any event, this went over well, definitely better than the Clash, probably even better than a Bowie tour would have. Tommy Shannon described the tour as “glorious”: “Our record hadn’t become that successful yet, but we were playing in front of coliseums full of people. We just went out and played, and it fit like a glove. The sound rang through those big coliseums like a monster. People were going crazy, and they had no idea who we were!”

What continues to amaze me after all these years is how many industry people up and down the line from record company execs to disc jockeys to musicians (Hey, Mick!) said that nobody wants to hear a blues guitarist. Well, fuck, yeah we do wanna hear SRV and the band tear it up on “Testify” from the El Mocambo in Toronto (Spotify from Carnegie Hall):

Spotify link

Now, I wish I could say it was all sweetness and light. But Stevie and the boys had always enjoyed the good life by which I mean the musician’s usual habit of “Woke up this morning and I got myself a beer.”

Stevie had been drinking ever since he was a kid and now he had a powerful cocaine and booze habit. He was able to sustain on this mixture for a while but contrary to what many musicians seem to think, being on champagne and reefer on a consistent basis does not make your playing any better.

Late in 1983 – around the time the band played Austin City LimitsGuitar Player magazine awarded him Best New Talent, Best New Electric Blues Guitar Player, and Best Guitar Album. Right after that he went and taped a show with his old pal Albert King:

Spotify link

In May of 1984, the band released their second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather. It was another mixture of originals and covers including Stevie’s version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and his Kenny Burrell/Wes Montgomery inspired jazzy number, “Stang’s Swang.”  (Clapton, for all we love his playing, never did anything like this):

Spotify link

Shannon: “We were becoming successful so dealers found us. The drug intake had increased dramatically, though the real negative effects hadn’t taken over yet.”

Buddy Guy: “I cussed Stevie out ’cause I saw him and Johnny Winter once and he didn’t even know who I was. I got in his face about the drugs.”

Stevie and the guys opened for Huey Lewis who was absolutely a huge fucking fan. It did not go well as the audience just clamored for Huey. Why the fuck are they even putting Stevie out there opening for other people at this point?

“On October 4, 1984, Vaughan headlined a performance at Carnegie Hall that included many guest musicians. For the second half of the concert, he added Jimmie as rhythm guitarist, drummer George Rains, keyboardist Dr. John, Roomful of Blues horn section, and featured vocalist Angela Strehli.”

And two days later – fully 1 1/2 years after hearing “Let’s Dance” – yours truly got to see SRV at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. Outside of a small club, you can’t beat the Orpheum. It’s a Fillmore-like theater where I cut my teeth going to shows in my misspent youth.

Needless to say, I was blown away. He did everything from “Scuttle Buttin'” to “Texas Flood” to three (!) Hendrix covers – “Voodoo Child,” “Little Wing,” and “Third Stone from the Sun,” ending with “Rude Mood.”

Spotify link

Around this time, Stevie played on his hero Lonnie Mack’s Strike Like Lightning album. Ironically, Mack – a white artist – was now recording for Alligator Records which had rejected SRV as being too derivative of Albert King. This is basically a remake of “Wham!” called “Double Whammy.” Live at the Orpheum (in Memphis):

Spotify link

When it came time to record his next album, Stevie wanted to add more flavor and so keyboardist Reese Wynans joined. I’ve written about Reese before but his main claim to fame at this point was that he was at the initial jam in 1969 where the Allman Brothers formed. But Duane had other ideas about a keyboardist. (Stevie loved the Allmans and saw the original band perform in Austin about two weeks before Duane died. He opened for Gregg on more than one occasion.)

Sout to Soul was a good album but didn’t break any new ground. (I’ve always been fond of saying that Stevie basically made the same album over and over again but it was a good one.) We saw SRV again at the Boston Opera House in March 1985 at what I would swear was a Boston Globe Jazz Festival. (Or it might have been Newport which he also played that year.) Stevie was by this point pretty fucked up on drugs but not only did we not know that but his playing was again, flawless.

By 1986, things were pretty bad drug-wise. The band put out an album called Live Alive but it might just as well have been called Live Half-Dead.

Wikipedia: “At the height of Vaughan’s substance abuse, he drank 1 US quart (0.95 L) of whiskey and used one-quarter of an ounce (7 g) of cocaine each day. Personal assistant Tim Duckworth explained: “I would make sure he would eat breakfast instead of waking up drinking every morning, which was probably the worst thing he was doing.” According to Vaughan: “it got to the point where if I’d try to say “hi” to somebody, I would just fall apart crying. It was like solid doom.”

In September 1986, Double Trouble traveled to Denmark for a one-month tour of Europe. During the late night hours of September 28, Vaughan became ill after a performance in Ludwigshafen, Germany, suffering from near-death dehydration, for which he received medical treatment.

The incident resulted in his checking into The London Clinic under the care of Dr. Victor Bloom, who warned him that he was a month away from death. After staying in London for more than a week, he returned to the United States and entered Peachford Hospital in Atlanta, where he spent four weeks in rehabilitation; Shannon checked into rehab in Austin.” 

After Stevie got out of rehab in late 1986, he went to live in his mother’s house back in Dallas. He got divorced from Lenny and legal and other entanglements prevented him from recording for a while.

When he did record, the album was called In Step because, “I’m finally in step with life, in step with myself, in step with my music. The album’s liner notes include the quote “Thank God the elevator’s broken,” a reference to the twelve-step program proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Several of the songs were inspirational and were about overcoming addiction without being preachy. 

The song “Tightrope” was co-written with his old buddy Doyle Bramhall:

Spotify link

Jeff Beck and SRV had met some years prior at some Epic Records industry affair. By all accounts, they were like two cats arching their backs and checking each other out. Somehow – as part of the In Step tour – somebody came up with the idea of pairing the two bands and calling it The Fire Meets The Fury Tour.

Did I go to this? Are you fucking kidding me? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? We saw him at a place in Worcester and I will tell you what, this should have been called the Loud and Even Louder tour. I’m still friends with one of the guys I went with and we talked about it not too long ago. I’m not sure if either of us has our hearing back. While it was fun to see these gunslingers together, I’ve seen them both on separate occasions and much preferred it when they weren’t going head to head, trying to outdo each other.

This is from the Chicago show:

Spotify link

By 1990, Stevie was in a good place, clean and sober and in a relationship with a woman he had met in Australia. He finally made an album with brother Jimmie called Family Style. It’s a good album but is more laid-back Jimmie style than balls-to-the-wall SRV style. It was released in November of 1990. He never got to hear it.

As part of a tour, Double Trouble played with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Jimmie at Alpine Valley, an amphitheater in East Troy, Wisconsin. Here they all are doing “Sweet Home Chicago” on the night of Stevie’s last performance:

The problem with the place is that you have limited access in and out and the best way to travel is by helicopter. After what was by all accounts a great show, all the bands took off. Stevie wanted to get back to Chicago ASAP, He never made it.

“Vaughan and the other three passengers (Clapton’s booking agent Bobby Brooks, bodyguard Nigel Browne, assistant tour manager Colin Smythe) departed aboard the third helicopter in dense fog at 1 a.m. Jeff Brown piloted the helicopter off the golf course, at a higher speed and slightly lower altitude than the others.

It banked sharply to the left and crashed into the side of a 300-foot ski slope, about 0.6 miles (1 km) from takeoff. All on board were killed instantly. There was no fire or explosion, and the bodies and debris were scattered over 200 feet (60 m). No one was aware of the crash until the helicopter failed to arrive at its destination the next morning.”

I remember exactly where I was that day, August 27, 1990. I was involved in a computer business (long gone) with a couple of guys and driving to a customer. I heard the news on the radio and nobody was sure who had died. I didn’t know if it was Clapton or SRV but frankly, either one seemed unimaginable.

“A two-year probe by the National Transportation Safety Board found that improper planning/decision by the pilot was the main probable cause of the crash. Darkness, fog, haze and rising terrain were contributing factors.”

And so, like that, one of the greatest blues guitarists to ever walk the face of the earth was gone. Thirty years ago this year. Imagine.

In the year that I’m writing this, 2020, blues is still alive and well although not even remotely in the mainstream. It’s back down the alley, back with the voodoo and the hoodoo and the “booze and the broads” and the gamblers, wild ramblers, and the backdoor men. It’s outsider music and so maybe that’s where it should be. But I can turn on Sirius XM’s B.B. King channel 24/7 and listen to the blues all day long if I want.

As to Stevie, his legacy is huge. He was one-of-a-kind and we won’t see his like again any time soon. Let us mourn his death but let us be glad for what he gave us in his 35 years on earth.

In 1994 a bronze statue of SRV was erected to downtown Austin on the banks of Lady Bird Lake where he had performed his final Austin show on May 4, 1990. I was in Dallas years ago and actually visited his (and his father’s) grave. There wasn’t a soul around.

R.I.P Stevie. Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray, Samantha Fish, Eric Clapton. Gary Clark, Jr., Tab Benoit, Ana Popovic, Warren Haynes, Toronzo Cannon, Buddy Guy, and even yours truly are still layin’ it down and playing the blues. Which will never, ever die.

Spotify link

Sources: Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Wikipedia, Antone’s web site, SRV website; Rise of a Texas Bluesman documentary 

SRV Spotify playlist

33 thoughts on “Stevie Ray Vaughan – (Part Three) – The Sky is Crying

    1. Music to my ears. (So to speak.) Welcome to my corner of the blogosphere. Come back and comment as often as you’d like. Suggest giving the Spotify list a spin. It’s got everything from the essential stuff to duets with Jeff Beck, Jimmie, Lonnie Mack, Albert King. Good for what ails ya.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was lucky enough to see SRV several times, including the Orpheum show that you mentioned (Did the Outlaws open that show? Can’t remember.) the first time I saw him was earlier that same year, in July at an outdoor venue in Salem, Massachusetts called Winter Island Park. Needless to say it was mind blowing. We were standing at the stage and he seemed very high, although his playing was intense and flawless. But he played Testify twice – early in the set and again late in the set. He must have forgotten and just followed his hands. I also remember that at one point he jumped down from the stage onto the roped-off grassy area between the stage and the audience. Cigarette dangling from his lip and his eyes rolling back – soloing with just his left hand he finished his smoke and flicked it into the grass at the feet of the crowd and several fans around us scrambling to get that butt, haha.

    I saw him every chance I got including double bills with Albert King in Boston, and Jeff Beck in Worcester (shortly before he died,) but the first time always seems the most magical. But every show was unbelievable.

    I saw the Bowie Serious Moonlight tour too – amazing show. Even though SRV wasn’t there, Earl Slick is an explosive guitarist in his own right.

    Thanks for the post.

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    1. I don’t recall ever seeing the Outlaws but it’s possible. I was also at the Beck show so it sounds like our paths crossed. Coincidentally, when I heard on the radio that SRV had died I was on my way to a customer in Salem.
      I was a Bowie fan but strangely never had a great desire to see him live.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I got intrigued about who opened for SRV the other times I saw him. I had said in the post that I saw him at the Boston Opera House. But guess who opened for him? Albert King, which may be the show you alluded to. I have no memory of that and think now it may have been outside at Newport that year. I was pretty sure I’d seen him a festival and that timeline jives. There’s no way in hell I’d forget seeing Albert King. I sometimes wish I’d had the foresight to keep every ticket stub to every show I’d gone to.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yeah. By no means was it a bad thing. But they could have dialed it back down from 11. I mentioned in the piece that they had played before at an industry event. It was in Hawaii and you can find some of that online too.
      There’s a nice mix on that Spotify list: Beck, Lonnie Mack, Jimmie, Albert, some Dick Dale. CB could do a lot worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Come on Doc you know I love all that stuff. Why I bite. You are very good at spreading the love around to others (Some CB doesnt listen to). But SRV is near the top with me. He is missed but he left a truckload of great stuff that I play on a regular basis.
        I love those guitar battles (or whatever you call them). That goes back to jazz days when Hawkins and Webster and Young would do that all night long in the after hour joints.
        Bruce and Little Steven would do that also. I love it. Turn it up!

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        1. Good. I’ll take that as “Yes, Doc, I’ll listen to all three hours. Plus I’ll start listening to those things on your site I haven’t been listening to.”

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I just got off a SRV jag. It’s a hard rabbit hole to come out of. All his albums are top notch with me. The last one after he got clean is proof like you say about “playing better high”. He smokes on that. Also Doc, I love his singing. The passion comes out just as real as it does on his guitar.
          I’m not locked into any one kind of music (as you know) like yourself but there’s staple and Stevie is some of that. Just #$%&%$ special. We have way more common ground than not. That’s where we meet. Later you blues freak. I’m off to get a hair cut and listen to that song ‘I Almost Cut My Hair’. Not really.

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        3. Yeah. I love his singing too. Plus he was so fucking cool with that hat and everything. Enjoy a couple CSNY albums while you’re having your mustaches touched up.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. BTW, I mentioned briefly in the piece that I visited SRV’s grave. I’m not usually in the habit of that (though I did see Jim Morrison’s) but I was in Dallas a lot during that period.
          So I called the local Dallas Chamber of Commerce and they told me the cemetery. It’s right up on a hill as you drive down some major highway.
          I went and for like, 1/2 hour could not find his grave. I was ready to leave and then, weirdly, just had this feeling. I walked over and there was SRV and his father’s graves. Nobody around at all and maybe a flower or two on the grave. I might have mumbled a few words but well, that was it. I will get to Duane and Berry’s graves one day.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. At least there was no one there trying to sell you something. It’s been said so many times but man do I miss that guys music.
          There was a comment on my take about ‘Downfall’ where the person visited the bunker site. Nothing but a parking lot with an info sign. Fitting,
          ( I see our friend dcw0731 is back. Im going to pop over and drop a comment. He has a take on “Southern Rock”. Might be a couple bands you’re familiar with)

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        6. Jim Morrison’s grave had upside-down cowboy boots and joints and everything on it.
          I’m pretty sure DCW came over here recently too. Boppin’s Blog just reappeared. And what ever happened to J? Where the fuck do these guys go?
          The ABB hated the term ‘Southern Rock.’

          Liked by 1 person

        7. I have a song called ‘Graveyard Rock’ I should send to you.
          I know J was signing off to take care of business. Miss that guy.
          All those terms, Punk, Prog etc. I try to avoid them. They make me bristle at times. I’m listening to Lowell George this morning so I guess that’s in the ballpark. Lets go over and welcome him back.

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        8. Lowell George. Solid choice. Steve loves that guy. I’ll pop over to see Forgotten a little later. Two years he’s been away. Jesus. BTW, i hit 900 followers today. Just think of all the ‘likes’ I’ll get.

          Liked by 1 person

        9. That last comment made me chuckle.
          Yeah I’ve been on a Steve Forbert kick, so I did the related artist thing and I am now in a Lowell groove. It was him or Cooder. Sorry Ry. I could hear Steve play with both those guys especially Lowell.

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  2. Yes, the bill with King was at the Opera House. It was part of the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. There were 2 shows the same night, so both acts played tight sets in order to flip the audience between shows. I was at the 1st show and I remember watching SRV in the wings bopping during AK, the 3 foot feather in his hat waving all around.

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    1. Interesting. I mentioned that in the series. From what I read, generally speaking, that crowd was lukewarm to him. I take it that was not your experience.

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      1. I don’t really remember. I was just jazzed about being up front. He had the flu that night and 60 seconds in he was a bad shade of green and pouring sweat. I gave him an “Are you OK? ” look, he grimaced and went on to tear the place up.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this series, sir. I’ve heard far too little of SRV but everything I have heard and those tracks selected throughout these posts set my carpet on fire with all the toe tapping, it’s just one of the best things you can wrap your ears around.

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    1. Interesting. I thought you had posted about him before. The Spotify list I posted has several hours of SRV goodness including duets with Our Mate Jeff Beck, Lonnie Mack, old stuff, new stuff – it kicks some ass.

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        1. Trust me. Listen to that fucking playlist. You will get a good taste of his stuff. He even does jazzy stuff. The little guy might dig some of it too.

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