Stevie Ray Vaughan Paid His Dues

My treadmill time is actually a guilty pleasure – I record every music concert, documentary, and interview show on TV and watch them while racking up the miles, sans commercials.  I really enjoy learning the history of famous musicians, and the surprising backstories.

AXIS TV recently featured a long documentary about the life and musical legacy of Stevie Ray Vaughan, a one-of-a-kind talent who died too young in a helicopter crash in 1990 after a concert with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and his brother Jimmie Vaughan.  He was only 35.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s time in the spotlight only spanned seven years, but the documentary showed that he had paid plenty of dues prior to his explosion onto the international music scene in 1983.  Starting in his early teens, SRV worked the blues clubs in Dallas, playing in dozens of bands, and practicing obsessively, seeking to emulate the sound of his idol, Albert King.  During the rock and pop sixties and seventies he stayed true to his passion for blues and by the time he moved to Austin in the early 80s to make his mark, his guitar style was unique and polished.

Even then Stevie Ray worked on the backline, leaving most of the vocals to a female blues singer.  When she quit the band, he announced that he would be fronting the power trio going forward.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ultimate superstar status belies the years of hard work that he put in to get there.  He and his bandmates often played for the gate at seedy bars, splitting a hundred bucks.  One Austin club would bring in hundreds of enthusiastic revelers for a mediocre Saturday night rock show, but fewer than 50 for SRV’s superb blues revue the next night.

But his performances began to gain traction with music afficionados and in 1982 Stevie Ray played the Montreaux Jazz Festival to mixed revues.  David Bowie was drawn to his rare talent and put him to work on his watershed Let’s Dance album and tour.  Soon Stevie Ray was headlining huge venues and recording platinum albums.  His ascent was rapid and steep, and SRV was so eager to please that he rapidly burned out, battling exhaustion with drugs and alcohol.  He had just recovered his health at the time of his accident.

It’s easy to assume that a musician who achieved meteoric success at such a young age must have had an easy and quick path.  Not so for Stevie Ray.  He paid his dues.

Tom Balek
Caution! Blind Driver

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