Stevie’s beginnings as a musician started at a young age when he became inspired by his older brother, Jimmy Vaughan. He decided to teach himself guitar by playing along to the records of his other influences, which included Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt Chuck Berry, and Lonnie Mack. At the age of seventeen, he decided to make a career in music by playing in several different garage bands that were landing reasonable gigs in nightclubs and the works, until finally recruiting bassist Jack Newhouse and drummer Chris Layton for what would be his band, Double Trouble, named after an Otis Rush song. After a few years of gaining a reputation in the Texas club scene, they eventually landed a spot in the Montreux Jazz Festival, where they caught the eye of Jackson Browne and Mr. Bowie…..and the rest was certainly history in the making.
Even after the slight turn of unfortunate events involving alcoholism and drug abuse, Stevie managed to come out a better person and musician at that point; one would argue that his best work was during his sobriety. As soon as he got clean, he released his 1986 live album, Live Alive, and was doing extensive tours which included opening up for Robert Plant, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and European gigs, before recording his fourth record, In Step. By 1990, he recorded Family Style with his brother Jimmy, and by late 1990, him and Double Trouble were headlining tours throughout America; their East Troy, Wisconsin gig featured a famous encore jam with Clapton, Buddy Guy, his brother, and Robert Cray. But things took a tragic turn for the worst when, after the concert, Stevie had boarded a helicopter that crashed on its way to Chicago; his life would be taken at the age of 35 years old.
Much like with all of the other greats who have died young, there’s no telling how far his talents could have soared. But we only have his indelible body of work to marvel over for many more years to come. So here’s to one of the best blues guitarists of his time, and one of the greatest to ever walk the Earth: Stevie Ray Vaughan!
10.) Change It
Kicking off our Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan Songs list is one of Stevie’s glummest and most distraught recordings. It’s riff and Albert King-inspired licks, along with lyrics that plead for his woman to forgive him of his evil ways, casts a dark shadow over the otherwise light atmosphere of their third studio album, Soul to Soul. This deep cut proved that Stevie and his band could juggle both dissonance and rhythm, while still holding on to their dance step motif.
9.) Pride and Joy
I know most of you are pondering why this signature single from their killer debut, Texas Flood, is so low on the list. Well, this isn’t at all a scorn towards the undeniable impact Pride and Joy exudes; it’s a true staple for classic rock radio stations, and it’s the song that catapulted the album, and the band, into the stratosphere of great esteem. Written for his girlfriend at the time, Stevie’s infectious Texas shuffle brought a jittery tempo and swagger to the mundane 80’s music scene; contemporary blues had a new spokesperson in Stevie Ray Vaughan, and this song was further illustration of blues’ newfound reign.
8.) Couldn’t Stand the Weather
After the success of their debut album, SRV and Double Trouble followed up with an even better album in 1984 titled Couldn’t Stand the Weather. It had every raw component of their savvy Texas blues, as well as some nice jazzy elements to it. The title track is littered with a minutia of colorful attributes. It starts out with a feisty bass line and sneaky drum fill at an irregular measure before jumping straight into SRV’s funk-driven chords and his gravelly snarls. This song is also home to one of his very best guitar solos too; he tears into the meat of that middle progression with such animosity that his Albert King fanaticism awakes.
7.) Rude Mood
This wonderful instrumental from Texas Flood earned the band a Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental. It’s a typical blues shuffle played at an impressive 264 beats per minute. It’s a pastiche of Lightin’ Hopkins’ song Hopkins’ Sky Hop, but it does an excellent job of throwing itself into a more swing-encouraged prance while still retaining the bulk of the songs original riff.
6.) Little Wing
It goes without saying that Hendrix was SRV’s biggest influence; we’ve already established that earlier, but it’s just nice reiterating it once more. And if there’s one statement that holds endless amounts of water, it’s that Stevie was the only musician who properly did Jimi’s songs justice. His poignant instrumental of the monumental track Little Wing is a fine example of such. The way he put the same touch and soul into each chord, lick, and solo, it’s like witnessing Hendrix vicariously operating Stevie’s emotions; there’s nothing more that can be stressed about this cover. Please just have a listen for yourself.
5.) Life Without You
If Changing It is the shadow that hangs over the record Soul to Soul, then Life Without You is the illuminating flame that scares it away. He put so much pain and anguish in this song, but his endearment and ferocity shines through just the same. Seriously, who else can compose a woeful ballad, but still manage to turn it into a intrepid exercise of bluesy proportions? Stevie, that’s who!
4.) Voodoo Child (A Slight Return)
Speaking of Hendrix once more, here is perhaps the most well known cover of this godly rock and roll composition. If Little Wing was Stevie unleashing the mournful tears of Jimi’s spirt, than this merciless interpretation of Voodoo Child was Stevie tapping into the anger and virtuosity of Jimi. He plays that signature E blues riff with just as much disgust, and his wily fluidity of the wah wah pedal elevates his runs to a more stylistic zest. This is, without a doubt, the best Hendrix cover, and there’s no doubt he was looking happily down from heaven every time Stevie performed this song.
3.) Tin Pan Alley
This nine minute jam from Couldn’t Stand the Weather is nothing short of dulcet magnitude. It’s atmosphere shrouds the senses in a darkly lit, smoke-filled bar reminiscent of Raymond Chandler noir, with some of the smoothest blues runs doused in the purest of tones. SRV doesn’t make it a point to be grandiose, instead he casually unfolds a story of the roughest place in town where violence, death, debauchery, and sex are the norm, and he yanks the listener by the scruff with his most ambitious song that almost sounds like it was improvised from the hip.
This stunning instrumental, named after his wife Lenora during that time, is probably his most “Hendrix” song that he composed himself. It was the closing song off of Texas Flood, and is played in the key of E flat major (he always tuned his guitars down half a step), with a healthy inflection of free jazz and his light use of electric blues splattered in. The chord voicings he incorporates here definitely echoes the interposed euphony of optimism and dejection of Little Wing, which was most definitely a source of inspiration. This is a very intimate song, and a true template of what made SRV the gifted musician whom he was.
1.) Riviera Paradise
Stevie was a true master at his craft; he was a champion of every style of blues imaginable. His autodidact superiority of the guitar is truly a mind-bender, because he understood the inner workings of it like any theoretically trained professional, but he blew those conventions out of the conversation with a more free-thinking dexterity. Riviera Paradise, his most beloved instrumental, demonstrates every element of his chops on a transcendental plane. This was the song that really showcased his penchant for musical diversity; this was him flirting seductively with jazz and easy listening.
Riviera Paradise was Stevie cleansing his soul of the personal demons that plagued him, metamorphosing him into a newly birthed animation who was now christened with the skill and humility to do even better things. Unfortunately that couldn’t happen due to his death, but his everlasting existence still lives on through songs like this.