Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: Texas Flood (Legacy Edition) – Epic/Legacy
Back in the mid-1960s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, several guitarists caused diehard fans to argue over who was the all-time greatest electric blues axeman. Hendrix, of course, was the undisputed king. But he didn’t make it into his 30s.
Before Hendrix took himself out of the running, he had serious competition in Peter Green, who launched Fleetwood Mac with a couple other ex-Bluesbreakers. But he drugged his way off the mountaintop, as did Mike Bloomfield, another monster talent and Paul Butterfield, acolyte; listening to recordings of these players in their prime still can make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up and wish they were still around today (Green is, but he’s not the same player).
Clapton was there, but the 1970s and 1980s were unkind to him, creatively, and it’s really been a steep downhill decline since Cream and Layla. Duane Allman coulda been all that, too, but he ended up practicing some fatally unsafe Harley-Davidson maneuvers. Jimmy Page seemed pretty promising as an international heir apparent to Hendrix’s throne, until Led Zeppelin moved away from blues and into a spiral of incomprehensible musico-mythology and rock weirdness that spawned brutal songs like “Achilles’ Last Stand.” Another cat, Roy Buchanan, might’ve done it, but personal excesses got the best of him, too. Jeff Beck? Maybe, but sometimes a little too much a musician’s musician to garner wide appeal.
Then Stevie Ray Vaughan came along to end the debate. A tough kid from a rough-and-tumble family, Vaughan wasn’t exactly blessed with high book-learning intellect or very much common sense, but his musical IQ was off the charts. His monstrous, calloused hands required heavy gauge “telephone wire” guitar strings (as his techs referred to them), and extra wide necks outfitted with bass frets on his signature Strats that could stand up to his ferocious style. Tuned low with hypersensitive pickups, Vaughan’s guitars created a singular platform for his virtuoso chops.
Finally, we’d located a worthy heir to Hendrix. Jimi and Stevie weren’t parallel in skill sets; Jimi was much more the composer, while Stevie had more tonal and emotional vocal range. But the comparisons were legit. Seems like yesterday, but all this took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, like, you know, predating Twitter, smartphones, even the Internet as we know it today. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Texas Flood, Vaughan’s debut with his trio, Double Trouble, recorded on the eve of Britney Spears’ first birthday.
In 1982, few outside of the Lone Star state had heard of Double Trouble, but when they hit the road, word got around, and the band quickly caught the attention of rock’s ruling class. Vaughan’s performance at a New York club rendered audience member Mick Jagger slack-jawed. Jackson Browne, upon hearing Vaughan, offered free time in his Los Angeles studio to the band (they used it to record Texas Flood in 72 hours total counting the first day setting up; they nailed the title song in a single take as the clock ran out). David Bowie heard them in Montreaux, and freaked out the music establishment by immediately tapping the unknown Vaughan to play lead guitar on what would become his monster comeback album, Let’s Dance. Vaughan then turned around and freaked out Bowie — and raised the rock business world’s collective eyebrow — when he declined Bowie’s invitation to join him on the ensuing “Serious Moonlight” tour because of his own personal reservations and upon advice of management.
By then Vaughan had the tapes of the finished Texas Flood in his back pocket, and had caught the attention of CBS’s John Hammond Jr., whose golden ear had discovered and produced some of the biggest names in blues, jazz, and rock dating back to the 1930s. The rest of Vaughan’s story — including a near-fatal pursuit of cocaine and booze followed by a miraculous recovery and period of sobriety leading up to his 1990 death in a helicopter crash following — is history.
All this serves as backdrop to give context for Epic/Legacy commemorating the 30th anniversary of Texas Flood. The remastered version of the album doesn’t feature a heavy hand of change, or groundbreaking new revelations, but it is worth mentioning that Vaughan’s playing — tuned for the MP3/iPod/earbuds world — pops with additional depth and life, truly sounding new again.
The real revelations of the repackaged Texas Flood lie on the studio album’s companion disc, which features an unreleased October 1983 live gig recorded by a radio station at Ripley’s Music Hall in Philly. In shows like these was where Vaughan ascended to rule the kingdom of blues-rock, ripping through his own songs like “Pride and Joy” and “Love Struck Baby,” which ended up as the two singles from Texas Flood.
It could have been this night — or one before, or one soon after — where Vaughan cemented his birthright to the Hendrix throne here with renditions of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” “Little Wing,” and “Third Rock From the Sun.” Live, without overdubbing, filters, autotune, or postproduction scrubbing. Just Vaughan, his guitar, and his mates — who admitted they sometimes could barely keep up with the guitarist, even though they’d practiced and gigged with him on the road for several years by this point.
Listen to this live set, naysayers, and come back and tell me with a straight face that, after Hendrix, Vaughan isn’t one of the top two blues-rock players of all time. It’s time to acknowledge that he’s above Clapton, Page, Duane et al in the Pantheon. Three decades after Texas Flood, with no one since even coming close, we finally can end the discussion.