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Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan--Twenty Years After His Tragic Death

Posted: Aug 28, 2010

Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, called by many the greatest blues guitarist since Jimi Hendrix, died twenty years ago this month in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin. Jimi Hendrix, who died suddenly in September of 1970 just two months before his 28th birthday, has been acclaimed by music critics as the greatest electric guitarist in the history of rock music, and Stevie Ray Vaughn was following in his musical footsteps. Vaughan had already won his own battle with drugs and alcohol, and his future looked extremely bright. In January 1989, Vaughan's band had performed at President George Bush's Inaugural party in Washington, DC, and his fourth album, In Step, had won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Record in 1990. By August 13, all five of Vaughan's and Double Trouble's albums were certified gold, each selling over 500,000 units Two weeks later Stevie Ray Vaughan was dead.

On August 26, 1990, Vaughan had just finished playing to a packed house at Alpine Valley Music Theater, in East Troy, Wisconsin. The concert featured an encore jam with Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray, and Buddy Guy. Said Guy later: "It was one of the most incredible sets I ever heard Stevie play. I had goose bumps."

Sometime after midnight, Vaughan boarded a helicopter to fly to Chicago, and on August 27, shortly before 1 a.m., the helicopter carrying Vaughn and three other passengers crashed within seconds after takeoff killing everyone aboard. Vaughan was 35.

For music lovers everywhere, the crash evoked the memory of yet another tragic event "the day the music died.". Thirty-one years prior to Vaughan's death, at approximately 1 am on February 3, 1959, a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Vallens, and The Big Bopper crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing the pilot and all the passengers.

I remember when I heard, I mean really heard, Stevie Ray Vaughan cut down on his Fender Stratocaster for the first time. I still get a chill down my spine when I think of that experience. Vaughn was appearing on Austin City Limits, and fortunately, I had set my VCR to record. The result was one full, fantastic hour of pure Stevie Ray Vaughan. I almost wore out the video cassette playing the tape over and over. Five yearsafter the crash, the Live At Austin cd was released featuring both the1983 and 1989 concerts.

Austin Texas, claims Vaughan as a native son,  Stevie Ray Vaughan moved to Austin from Dallas in 1971 before he finished high school to find work as a musician. In 1991, a year after his tragic death, Texas governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, Vaughan's birthday, to be "Stevie Ray Vaughan Day." An annual motorcycle ride and concert in Central Texas benefits the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund and in 1994, the city of Austin erected the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake, the site of a number of Vaughan's concerts. The statue has become one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. .

In February of 2000, Vaughan was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame, and in 2003 Vaughan was ranked #7 in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

----Penne J. Laubenthal


     Stevie Ray Vaughan

    The Day The Music Died

    Uneasy Rider--Austin, Texas

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