Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan 20 years after the crash

It was 20 years ago today that a helicopter crashed into a ski hill in heavy fog at Wisconsin's Alpine Valley Resort, killing the pilot, three members of Eric Clapton's entourage, and guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan had just finished performing in front of 30,000 fans, jamming with Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Vaughan's beloved older brother and biggest influence, Jimmie.

Stevie Ray was 35 years old.

I remember first hearing about the tragedy as I walked along a sun-drenched sidewalk near my old party house in South Van. A shocked roommate relayed the terrible news, but I didn't believe him at first—just like I didn't believe that the equally gifted Randy Rhoads had perished in a plane that crashed after buzzing Ozzy Osbourne's tour bus. It didn't make any sense. I guess these things never do.

I've been crazy about the sound of electric guitar all my life, but the soulful blues-rock noise that SRV created with such passion and apparent ease was something very special. I was fortunate enough to have seen him play live in Vancouver several times, at arenas (the Pacific Coliseum), soft-seaters (the Orpheum Theatre, where he was joined by local protégé Colin James), and, most enjoyably, at the Commodore Ballroom. I also got to interview him on the phone a couple of times, and he was about as ego-less and down-to-earth as a rock god could be. But the best thing by far was when I got to meet him in person.

It was shortly after the release of his stunning 1983 debut album, Texas Flood, and he was opening up for Aussie pop-rockers Men at Work, who were flying high at the time with the hits "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Down Under". Both acts were signed to the CBS imprint Epic Records, and the local CBS rep at the time, a go-getter named Dave Chesney, arranged for a quick meet 'n' greet at the Coliseum (this was way before cash-strapped rock stars started charging for backstage access, as they do today). Vaughan came out and signed my copy of Texas Flood, as did the unbeatable Double Trouble rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and Chris "Whipper" Layton. I'll never forget the strength of Stevie's handshake; it was like a fucking vise.

The last time I saw him in the flesh was when he played the Coliseum on a double bill with Joe Cocker on July 22, 1990. A couple of weeks before he'd called me from a tour stop in Montreal and chatted about a variety of topics, everything from Colin James ("He's a great musician and singer... Shoot, anybody would take him in!") to the rigours of the road ("I really haven't had time to look up!"). He had been touring heavily behind his fourth studio album, the Grammy-winning In Step, the title of which referred to the 12-step program he'd used to keep drug-abuse at bay the last few years. Hearty bursts of laughter punctuated most of his conversation, and, overworked or not, he seemed to be flying high on life itself. When asked about where he found the inspiration to play his ass off night after night, he offered a somewhat prophetic comment on his own mortality.

"You never can tell what kinda turns a gig's gonna take," he said, "but I try to play the best that I possibly can every night. And besides, I would hate to get caught playing my last gig not trying, you know what I mean? If it was the last one it sure would be a drag if I didn't try."

 

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Robert G. Senter
Stevie, thanks for all the love and music you passed our way!
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Ronnie
RIP Stevie, a true legend
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Bree
Nice story, thanks. RIP Stevie.
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Graham
Again, thumbs up to you Steve. Thanks for remembering my hero SRV. I managed to see every show of Stevie's except the Orpheum show. I managed to sneak to the front row when he opened for Men at Work. Security kept telling me and this other guy to sit down when we stood up to cheer. I was front row for his Commodore show and it still ranks as my #1 concert ever and you know I see a lot of shows. I'll be raising many a toast today to remember the great SRV!! Cheers!
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cdevo
I had the privilege to see Stevie Ray Vaughan preformed in Montreal at Jerry Park, an out-door venue. Upon his arrival to Montreal his bus was broken into and all his guitars were stolen except his favourite, which he had, and was practicing on with when it happened, also on the same day his dad passed away. When he came on stage and told us what had happened he dedicated the concert in memory of his dad, we all sat quietly for a few songs and then he wanted us to dance in bring up the energy, and so we did. What and artist, he could of easily walked away for the whole show. I get goose bumps just remembering what a special evening that was, so long ago. Never forgotten, always in memory.
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Steve Newton
speaking of Montreal, Epic/Legacy recently reissued Couldn't Stand the Weather with one full disc of previously unreleased live recordings from August 17, 1984, at the Spectrum. As well as the original album the Legacy Edition features 11 bonus tracks, including previously unreleased 1984 versions of "Boot Hill" and "The Sky is Crying", and a previously unreleased alternate take of "Stang's Swang". I'm just sayin'.
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bluesgirl
The Commodore show was something I'll never forget....my ticket stub and my autographed copy of Texs Flood remain one of my most prized posessions. His loss was immense...
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mad dogg
took the day off work when i heard the news.rip brother.
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siriusgirl
He lives on and always will...... RIP
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steverino
I saw him at that July 1990 gig at the Orpheum a month before he died. My boss' friend worked at CFOX and had given my boss two tickets but he couldn't use 'em... thanks Dave... i remember eating up every second of that show and I was in the 9th row center. He chewed gum the whole time, he did his trademark figure 8 strumming, he wore way too many clothes... he sang like a freight train... and it was a looong concert.
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Steve Newton
Nice name, Steverino. I agree, Stevie did have a voice "like a freight train", one loaded down with 20 tons of pure soul. Considering his mastery of guitar, I think his singing was underrated. He was one of those few blues-rockers, like Johnny Winter in his prime, who ruled the amp and mic both.
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Camero409
Just finished watching SRV at the Montreux Blues Festival 1985. What a player and singer. I was shocked when I heard the news. I was planning a Texas holiday to see him, Ry Cooder and ZZ Top, all seperate concerts, the next summer. Totally ruined my plans. Play on SRV. Your dearly missed.
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chris
Never saw Stevie in person. But he could make his guitars sing. Notice there has not been a posting at this website for many years and it is Monday evening at 7 35 pm on Aug. 26th 2013 only hours from his terrible passing. Just wanted to post this remembering his great gift and so sad he has not been with us for many years. Looking forward to meeting him in heaven one day. God Bless You Stevie, your are sorely missed even today after all these years.
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Rick Emmerich
One of the best memories of my life was watching the last two shows. I worked there that night (so I was sober too.) I have a nice story to tell, and hope to finally get it out. I saw him front row the first time at Summerfest in Milwaukee and my life changed that afternoon. I could not believe that guy as he played Scuttlebuttin' just a few feet from me.....All the best.
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