You can find tons of lists on the best rock, metal, jazz, classical ...even death metal guitarists. Curiously missing is an
objective consensus on the Top 10 Blues Guitarists. Our criteria was playing ability and their influence on the blues
genre and other blues artists. For example, Muddy Waters may not have been the tastiest player, but note how many
modern players sited him as their influence.
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Stephen Ray Vaughn was born in Dallas, TX and began playing guitar at
age 7 after watching his older brother, Jimmie, learn the instrument. His
addiction to the blues was instant as he became hooked on learning the
tune, "Wham", by his first guitar hero, Lonnie Mack. As his forceful style
began to develop as his influences expanded to include Freddie King,
Muddy Waters, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Eric Clapton and, of course, his
On the fateful day of August 27, 1990, SRV shredded a 20-min. version of
"Sweet Home Chicago" at Wisconsin's Alpine Valley Music Theater with
Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and his brother, Jimmie. Stevie
talked his way into the last of 4 seats on a chopper destined for Chicago.
Departing in a dense fog, Sweet Chicago would never be reached. A high
velocity crash took Stevie's life of one the blues most radiant torch-bearers
at the young age of 35. Artists there that day recall that fateful day in this
excellent VH-1 documentary on the events of that day and Stevie Ray
- "It was one of the most incredible sets I ever heard Stevie play. I had goose bumps... Stevie is the best friend
I've ever had, the best guitarist I ever heard and the best person anyone will ever want to know," --- Buddy Guy
Despite ten Austin Music Awards, a Blues HOF inductee (2000), with over 12
million albums sold, he sadly hasn't made the Rock HOF though eligible since
2008. That's just wrong and needs to be corrected! Premier Guitar has a great
gallery of SRV's guitar collection. For true SRV maniacs, here is his full one hour
set from Nashville in 1987 followed by his show at the Pistoia Blues Festival from
Pistoia, Italy a year later. How about a blues guitar lesson from Stevie? For more
on this blues legend, so deserving of #1 in our Top 10, visit Stevie's official website.
I digress. Back to music...Though Blues was somewhat of an underground culture, the popularity of MTV and music
videos in the early 1980's brought Blues into the spotlight thanks to Stevie's monster tone, casual virtuosity and
engaging sense of swing. His early videos highlighted every slick move on the neck of the guitar into the contortions on
his face. His intensity was irresistible to the MTV audience who felt Stevie's emotional approach to the blues hit every bit
as hard as Hendrix or the flailing metal guitar gods' videos. Gary Clark Jr., 27 year old Texas phenom and Stevie
disciple that plays a combination of Texas and Chicago blues, with a mix of psychedelic and soul thrown in for good
measure observed, "If you listen to his records and watch his videos, you can tell he's just giving you everything he had.
His passion was overwhelming."
His fourth and last Double Trouble album, In Step (1989) was a celebration of sobriety after years of drug and alcohol
abuse. It was also his final album with Double TroubleIt contained "Crossfire" (unbelievably his only #1 chart hit), plus
"Riviera Paradise", "Tightrope", "Love Me Darlin" and "Leave My Girl Alone". His album "The Sky Is Crying" (1991)
charted at # 7, won SRV his second Grammy, went platinum and was the first of several posthumous releases to
achieve chart success.... including all 6 of the live albums released after his death.
Texas Flood (1983)
Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984)
Soul to Soul (1985)
In Step (1989)
Family Style (with Jimmie) (1990)
In the Beginning (1980)
Live Alive (1986)
Live at Carnegie Hall (1997)
In Session (with Albert King) (1999)
Live At Montreux 1982/1985 (2001)
Live in Tokyo (2006)
The Sky Is Crying (1991)
Greatest Hits (1995)
Real Deal: Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1999)
Blues at Sunrise (2000)
Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan (2002)
Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues:
Stevie Ray Vaughan (2003)
Real Deal: Greatest Hits Vol. (2006)
Solos, Sessions & Encores (2007)
Pride And Joy (1991)
Live at the El Mocambo (1991)
Live From Austin, TX (1995)
Live at Montreux: 1982/1985 (2004)
Live in Tokyo (2006)
He enjoyed jamming with other Guitar Gods: Jeff Beck on "Goin' Down". Among
SRV's collaborations are BB King, Eric Clapton, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins,
(his interpretation of "Albert's Shuffle" was second only to Albert himself),
MackBlues", , Jeff . He even played the lead guitar on Don Johnson's album,
W.C. Heart Beat (1986) and his strange attempt at being a pop star back in the
heyday of Miami Vice. Here's a 4-part jam with Bernard Allison: 1, 2, 3, and 4.
STEVIE RAY VAUGHN
Yes, They SaiD It...
SRV's memorial was held on August 30, 1990, at Laurel Land Cemetery in
Dallas, where he was buried next to his father. Stevie Wonder, Jackson
Browne and Bonnie Raitt sang "Amazing Grace" at the service. Reverend
Barry Bailey, who was also his AA sponsor, delivered a powerful message:
"We're here to thank God for this man's life. He was a genius, a superstar,
a musician's musician. He captured the hearts of thousands and
thousands of people. I am thankful for the impact of this man's influence
on thousands of people..." I would suggest that influence extends to every
blues fan and one of us that every picked up a guitar.
October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990
One other song came out of this recording session in Santa Monica. It was the
dreamy, fluid, whammy bar-laden instrumental, "Lenny", dedicated to his wife,
Lenora "Lenny" Bailey. Perhaps, inappropriate to note here, but I feel compelled
to do so, is the love-hate relationship Lenny and Stevie shared. They met in
1973 one night at La Cucaracha in East Austin, a club where Stevie had
performed with The Nightcrawlers. It inspired him to write "Love Struck Baby"
and on December 23, 1979, between sets at the Rome Inn in Austin, they were
married in a spontaneous ceremony using pieces of wire for rings.
While his stage life was peaking, his married life was swiftly going in the other direction. The end of Stevie and Lenny's
short marriage was just as spontaneous as it began. Stevie returned to their Austin home after a long European tour
that ended in his return to Montreux in 1985, only to find his house padlocked, the utilities shut off, and Lenny gone.
Rare photo of SRV's ex-wife, Lenny, at
the Crossroads Guitar Fest in Texas.
- "I don't think anyone has commanded my respect more, to this day. It's going to be a long time before anyone
that brilliant will come along again." --- Eric Clapton
- "I think Stevie Ray was coming from some place so deep and so beautiful that there's no one you can compare
to him." --- Bonnie Raitt
- "I never cry, but yesterday, when I heard the news, I sat down on my bed and cried like a little baby."
--- John Lee Hooker
- The fact is that he affected the way blues will be played and heard forever. I've said that playing the blues is
like having to be black twice. Stevie missed on both counts, but I never noticed. --- B.B. King
Stevie Ray Vaughn didn't play a Fender Stratocaster... He made love to it. We found a quote from Stevie on how he
found his signature guitar. In the summer of 1973, Stevie Ray walked into Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas music store and
found his pride and joy, a 1959 Fender Stratocaster:
Lenny refused to visit Stevie or even accept his phone calls. He filed for divorce
three months later. That, my friends, is the blues with a capital B. Fortunately for
Stevie, he went on to meet a much more compassionate woman while on tour in
New Zealand in 1986; a young Russian girl named Janna Lapidus. She did attend
to Stevie during one of his later re-hab stints. They were said to be engaged at
the time of Stevie Ray's death in 1990 after only four short years together.
- "The music is the music, you know?...We gotta take the color out of the blues..."
After SRV's debut album, Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984), recorded at the
Power Station in New York City, was Tommy Shannon's first studio LP with the
band. His catchy bass riffs on the title track, with Stevie's hellacious funk, infinite
tempo changes, and obvious Hendrix-influence, made the regular rotation on MTV.
Brother Jimmie also added a few guitar tracks for the first time, like "Scuttle Buttin' ".
Add the best version of "VooDoo Chile" since Hendrix and you had a platinum
Things I Used to Do", "Cold Shot" and "Give Me Back My Wig"
- "Stevie was one of the reasons I wanted a Stratocaster - His Tone, which I've never been able to get down, was
just so big and bold and bright at the same time." --- Gary Clark Jr.
The good news? Vaughan caught the eye of David Bowie and he hired Stevie as his
session guitarist on the 1983 Top 10 hit, "Let's Dance". But the day before SRV was to
join Bowie on a world tour, he pulled out to focus on his own band. He wasn't interested
in falling into the Top 40 trap and, thankfully for all of us, he preferred to almost
single-handedly lead a resurrection of the blues in the 1980's.
Prior to the release of Stevie's first studio album in 1983, two live albums were released. In the Beginning was a live
broadcast recorded from his show in Austin, Texas, with Newhouse still on bass. While Double Trouble's performance
was raw and prior to the peak of SRV's career, we got a preview of his vibrant, powerful style that was to come on his
cover of Guitar Slim's, "They Call Me Guitar Hurricane" and wailing slide work in "Slide Thing" and "Live Another Day",
both of which formed the template of his 1983 breakthrough hit, .
In another case of Stevie being in the right place at the right time, Jackson
Browne had liked what he heard in Montreux that night and arranged studio time
for Double Trouble back at his recording facility in Santa Monica. Produced by
John Hammond, Texas Flood was recorded over three days of Thanksgiving,
Other than the radio-friendly single, "Pride and Joy", the LP hit with the
hardest blues and fastest riffs from all three musicians that had been heard
on blues recordings to date with "Rude Mood" and "Testify". While his vocals
weren't yet where would be later in his career on cuts like "Dirty Pool" and
"Mary Had a Little Lamb", the album still earned two Grammys and earned
Stevie the title of 'Best Electric Blues Guitarist' awarded by Guitar Player
Magazine ... an award he would win every year until his death.
Texas Flood Album Cover
Live Alive (1986) was an album derived from videos starting with footage from his
appearance at Montreux in 1985, two different five hour shows performed in Austin, TX;
one from July, 1985 and the other from July, 1986. The final segments of the album were
taken from a live show Stevie did in Dallas in July, 1986. Here's an interview with SRV
discussing "Willie the WImp" and its origin from that live LP.
According to his official biography by Patoski and Crawford, "Lenny had
squandered his road earnings on dope while running around with other men..."
Stevie was heart-broken and reacted the way any Blues musician would. He went
on a mega-bender that lasted for weeks. He finally signed himself in to a de-tox
facility in Georgia. If you didn't watch the 90 minute concert from Montreux
(above), then you need only watch this one song from that performance to clearly
see that an intervention was needed.
Stevie with big brother, Jimmie
Few guitarists have approached SRV's stature... and no one in Blues played
harder or with more determination. No blues guitarists' influence is wider among
modern day bluesmen. Here is the complete and comprehensive biography on
the life of Stevie from the VH-1 Legends Series in case you missed it: Parts 1, 2,
3, 4, & 5. For more intimate details of SRV's life, his authorized biography, Caught
in the Crossfire (1994) is a great read. The ominous black cover featuring
Stevie's silhouette is an indication as to the intensity of the content and its
priceless insight into his life. Every friend, colleague, and artist who impacted
Stevie's career and tragically short life finds their way into the book. Nick Patoski
has done a fine service to a great artist.
Stevie with B.B. King
After learning to play on his brothers' old guitars, Stevie dropped out of
high school in 1972 and moved to Austin. He picked up a used Fender
Stratocaster, the ax to which he remained loyal throughout most of his
career although masterfully skilled on all possible guitar configurations:
acoustic 12-string, acoustic 6-string slide, or an electric slide, too. He was
simply the quintessential pure blues virtuoso.
Producer Jerry Wexler, an early fan, added Double Trouble to the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival
bill. Stevie's first appearance in Montreux was good news and bad news. As Double Trouble
blistered the audience out of the gate with 12 bars of blues rage, the European audiences
were aghast. They weren't used to the power, volume and magnitude of the band's
'Texas-style' blues, and were turned off. In some of the cuts used in the composite live album
years later, Live At Montreux 1982 & 1985, you can hear the crowd booing, hissing and even
whistling (French booing) in the background of the '82 show.
In this 15-minute rare, lost interview, Stevie discusses this album along with his battle with drugs and alcohol, his 1987
HBO special, Blues Session, with BB King, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Albert King, Paul Butterfield, Chaka Khan, Etta
James, Phil Collins, Gladys Knight, and Billy Ocean. He also talks about how he felt about being the first white artist to
win the 'Blues Artist of the Year' and his cameo appearance with Dick Dale in his first movie role in Back to the Beach.
In 1990, the Vaughan brothers worked together as guest stars on Eric
Clapton's American tour and with Bob Dylan on their only studio collaboration,
Family Style. If you've never heard it, one of the most hopeful and encouraging
songs came from this effort: "Tick Tock". Atypical for SRV, little did Stevie know
when he recorded this how fast time was really ticking away. Earlier in his
career, Stevie often mentioned that he looked forward to do an album with his
brother someday. That wish was fulfilled in his very last studio session.
Unfortunately, Jimmie ended up having to produce the final product that Stevie
never heard. It was released in September, 1990, a month after his death. The
sad 'add-end' to the project are the liner notes inside the album jacket. It reads,
"Thanks Mama V. for letting us play."
The album won a Grammy for 'Best Contemporary Blues Album ' while the cut,
"D/FW", won the Award for 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' in 1990. With
exceptional production from Nile Rodgers, neither Double Trouble nor the
Fabulous Thunderbirds were used to back the brothers. It's bluesy, but not the
blues you've come to expect from SRV.
"I didn't even have to play it. I just knew by the way it looked that it would sound
great. I was carrying my '63 Strat, and asked if he wanted to trade. Thank God he
did, and it's been my main axe ever since... The guitar was officially put out in
1962, but the neck has a '59 stamp on it. There was also a sticker under the bass
pickup that read 'l.f. '59'. I think Leo Fender put it together with spare parts and
issued it in '62... To me it doesn't really matter; all I know is I've never found
another one like it. The neck is shaped differently from the others. It's a D-neck,
but it's oddly shaped- it's real, real big, and fits my hand like a glove." --- SRV
Barton left in 1979 and by 1981, Newhouse was replaced ex-Johnny Winter and current Double Trouble bassist, Tommy
Shannon. (The duo of Layton and Shannon still goes by "Double Trouble" behind Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
- "But between sets I'd sneak over to the black places to hear blues musicians. It got to the point
where I was making my living at white clubs and having my fun at the other places."
Ironically, not only did five of the eight songs in their Montreux set become key tracks in album, but in Stevie's return to
Montreux in 1985, it was standing room and standing ovations only. It took three years but Europe was finally ready for
Stevie's portrayal of the blues. Additional tracks from the '85 show would be used later for Live Alive, the band's first 'live'
- "It’s definitely true that SRV is one of my all-time favorite guitarists... Shortly after he died, I got hold of a video
of him playing a live show and was just totally blown away by his timing, his tone, his feel, his vibrato, his
phrasing — everything. Some people are just born to play guitar, and Stevie was definitely one of them."
--- Kirk Hammett (Interesting article by Kirk on "How to Play Like SRV" in Guitar World)