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Revisit: Pride & Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan

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ABOUT THE EXHIBIT

Stevie Ray Vaughan was the most significant guitar stylist of the post-blues-rock era.  No musician did more to energize the 1980s blues revival than the Texas guitarist, whose roots and influences included everyone from Albert and B.B. King, Guitar Slim, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, to Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy.  Vaughan ignited new interest in the blues at a time when longtime fans of the music were relying on fading legends for their blues fix and a new generation of rock fans had all but annulled the blues-rock marriage of the 1960s.

Vaughan was born and raised in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. From the start, his main inspiration was his older brother, Jimmie, who introduced him to both the guitar and the blues and later became the creative force behind the group, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.  After numerous bands, Vaughan settled on Double Trouble, which was comprised of bass player Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton.

Based out of Austin, Texas, an important blues center in the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble attracted blues and rock fans, thanks to Vaughan’s dazzling concert performances, critically acclaimed recordings, and guitar virtuosity that transformed nearly every solo into an emotionally intense roller coaster ride.  Unfortunately, Vaughan never got to reach his creative peak.  Tragically, he died in 1990 in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin.  He was only 35 years old.

Exhibit Locations and Duration:

    • GRAMMY Museum L.A. Live, June 11, 2014 – April 18, 2015
    • Woody Guthrie Center, March 31, 2016 – June 5, 2016
    • GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, June 30, 2016 – February 19, 2017
    • The Bullock Texas State History Museum, March 10, 2017 – July 30, 2017

The Blues

No one really knows exactly where or when the blues began, but it was widespread through the south and much of Texas by the turn of the 20th century.  Itinerant blues musicians could be heard from Houston’s Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards, to the rough lumber and turpentine camps of East Texas and in the honky-tonks of Deep Ellum in Dallas.  Blind Lemon Jefferson, who recorded sides for Paramount Records in the 1920s, was among the earliest stars of the “race” market.  He was well known in Deep Ellum and his signature guitar style would become a major influence on T-Bone Walker and others who played the new electric guitar in the 1930s.  In Austin, the African-American community had its tradition of work songs and gospel.  By the 1960s Austin venues including Charlie’s Playhouse and the Victory Grill hosted touring blues artists like Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and many others. Texas blues artists such as Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins were “re-discovered” and enjoyed considerable popularity into the last years of their lives.  By the 1970s a full-on blues renaissance was taking shape at the The Vulcan Gas Company, Armadillo World Headquarters, Antone’s, the Continental Club, Stubb’s and Threadgills.  Legendary artists were jamming with young blues players including Jimmie Vaughan and his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan.  To this day, Austin remains home to a community of musicians committed to honoring and expanding traditional forms of music such as blues, zydeco, country, and jazz.

SRV with “Number One”

Stevie Ray Vaughan set new standards in the blues and blues-rock scenes in the 1980s.  On each of his recordings, from his debut, Texas Flood, released in 1983, through his final studio album, In Step, which came out in 1989, Vaughan created a blues wall of sound to go with one scorching guitar solo after another.  Together, they made even the most skeptical listener believe that the blues still very much mattered in a music world soon to be dominated by grunge and hip-hop.

Onstage Vaughan simply tore it up.  His best shows either recalled the best of the late ‘60s blues-rock power trios or the sly showmanship of the old blues warhorses, or both.  With a guitar in his hand, Stevie Ray Vaughan possessed the precision and passion of a master player, while calling forth an array of human emotions with a powerful combination of chords and lead lines.

This 1960s Fender Stratocaster was given to Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1973 by the owner of a music store in Austin, TX. It became Vaughan’s main performance guitar and was played on each of his five studio albums, as well as Family Style. Stevie Ray Vaughan nicknamed the guitar “Number One” and “First Wife.” It was modified many times while Vaughan used it.

“Jimbo”

This 1951 Fender Broadcaster was gifted to Stevie in 1966 by his older brother, Jimmie Vaughan, when he was still up and coming. Stevie used this guitar to develop his signature style while playing clubs in the late ’60s and made his first studio recordings with it. Well-played, this guitar features an ash body with the finish removed by Vaughan in his school’s shop class and the name “Jimbo” carved into the back.

Unique Sound

Inspired by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Lonnie Mack, and jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, Stevie Ray Vaughan developed an instantly identifiable sound over the course of his career.  While much of that style was “in his hands,” Vaughan chose a small selection of effects pedals to help him create his signature sound. His choice of guitar effects, and the manner in which he used them, remain highly regarded.

Vaughan’s limited edition gold-plated Cry Baby pedal was given to him in 1987 by Jim Dunlop to encourage his “continued innovation and artistry of pedal technique.” Stevie Ray Vaughan kept this notebook with ideas, lyrics, band arrangements, and financial plans. Vaughan drew diagrams of his unique rig setups in this notebook as well.

The Stage

Power and control are the two words that best describe the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.

Rather than relying on a simple setup of basic amplifiers, and then employing a battalion of pedals, stompboxes, and rackmount gear to achieve distinctive guitar tones, Stevie Ray Vaughan preferred a select batch of amplifiers augmented by a handful of effects.

Throughout his short career, Vaughan built his sound entirely on his favorite Stratocaster guitars and the combined power of several customized Fender and Marshall tube amplifier heads. This rig, along with his technical prowess and instinctive ability to control the overwhelming power of his arsenal helped define his signature sound.

Contrary to the natural trend of using Marshall amps for overdrive sounds, and Fender amps for clean tones, he would punish both by pushing these amps counter to their intended direction.  This resulted in a loud, clean tone from his Marshall and from his Fenders, a muscular overdrive that veered into dangerous territory that only Vaughan could control from feedback or potential smoke, fire, and explosion that would result from pushing the red-hot tubes to their breaking point.

65 Deluxe Reverb

This pedal replicates the distinctive powerful sound of a guitar going through various high-powered tube amplifiers.

Vibrato Pedal

For a special effect, guitarists would run their guitars into a rotating loudspeaker. Originally intended for an organ, the speaker creates a warbling Doppler effect, which this pedal attempts to recreate.

Overdrive

As a tube amplifier is turned to its maximum volume, the sound begins to break up or distort. One of the key sounds of blues & rock and roll is an overdriven amplifier, which this pedal emulates.

Compression Sustainer

Much like a sustain pedal on a piano, this pedal allows a guitarist to hit a string and hold that note or notes for an extended amount of time.

Wah Wah

Similar to the mute on a trumpet player’s horn, this effects pedal was placed on a rocker pedal to allow the player to keep their hands free while controlling the unique “wah wah” sound perfected by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Chris Layton’s Tama Superstar Drum Set

Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Chris Layton moved to Austin in 1975, and joined Double Trouble three years later. Bassist Tommy Shannon joined the band in 1980, and the two of them played with Stevie Ray Vaughan right up until his death in 1990. Layton’s lean, solid style helped Double Trouble redefine the blues for a new generation.

The Tama Superstar Drum Set, now considered a vintage classic, was the preeminent set of drums in the early 1980s. Between late 1984 and early 1989 Layton used this “Candy Corn” kit for performances and recordings. The custom “Candy Corn” color scheme, an orange and yellow non-returning sunburst, was designed by Layton and painted by Brian Whalen.

“The template in my life had been Stevie, whose beliefs and values, and the way he felt about music, were so strong.  Stevie meant everything to me musically. His death was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” -Chris Layton

Legacy

Despite nearly a quarter century since Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tragic passing, his presence is still felt—and missed—in blues circles.  Nearly every blues guitarist today claims a Stevie Ray Vaughan influence, from Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, to Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark, Jr.

It isn’t just Vaughan’s rich guitar style that continues to influence the latest crop of blues players.  His once powerful stage presence, robust songwriting, and deep, passionate love of the blues also keeps his legacy alive in the 21st century.