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Remembering Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan
(Photo Courtesy Associated Press/Marty Lederhandler)

It was 23 years ago today (August 27, 1990) that a helicopter carrying Blues/Rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and members of Eric Clapton’s entourage crashed into a fog covered hill in East Troy, Wisconsin. Stevie Ray was just 35 years old.

I first heard Stevie while visiting a friend at college in Duluth, Minnesota in 1983. Rick had moved there from the Twin Cities so I drove up on a weekend to go to some parties with him and catch up. We ended up at a party near the UMD campus and one of the first songs I heard being played was “Pride and Joy”. I immediately found myself drawn to the stereo to find out what album was being played. It was there that I first held “Texas Flood”.

The guys throwing the party played the full album through, so I heard “Texas Flood”, “Rude Mood”, “Love Struck Baby” and even “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, though it sounded a LOT better than the nursery rhyme I remembered.

When I got back to the Twin Cities on Sunday night, I immediately went to my favorite music store (Positively 4th Street, near the University of Minnesota campus) and bought the album for myself. The more I listened, the more I felt the music ‘speak’ to me. I’d been a ‘rock guy’ since a babysitter first put on the local rock station on my little transistor radio when I was about 7 years old and I heard Led Zeppelin and the Stones. I found myself immersed in urban music for several years, thanks to fellow Minneapolis son Prince. But the Blues was something new to me. Of course I had heard the names B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins and others, but had never bothered to listen. But Stevie Ray? I couldn’t get enough.

It was an introduction into the genre of music that started most other forms of music. I started reading interviews with him and his worship of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and so many others. I started listening to those artists and digging deeper and deeper.

I got a chance to see Stevie Ray Vaughan twice before his early passing. Once in the Twin Cities (as I remember the newspaper article the following day absolutely TRASHING the show and Stevie’s vocals) and the final show at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin where Stevie was absolutely on fire. He was finally sober, in a great relationship, playing better than ever before, and sharing the stage with so many of his contemporaries like his big brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.

I was in broadcasting school in the Twin Cities and had made it back late that night/early the next morning. I went to class and was clearing the newswire when the bulletin came across that Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan had been killed in a helicopter crash leaving East Troy. I literally fell to my knees and cried. A short time later a correction came across that it was members of Clapton’s entourage and not Eric himself, but the world had lost Stevie Ray.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the influence he had on me. I never got the opportunity to meet him and thank him, but I think he knows. I have a large poster of him on the wall in my office. We all have people who have influenced our lives: our parents, a teacher or two, a best friend, and a musical icon who not only opened my eyes and soul to the blues. For that I am eternally grateful. I wouldn’t have the appreciation for ALL types of music had it not been for him and I doubt I would be a radio guy if it wasn’t for him. I always enjoyed music, but his passion lit the fuse on my passion. Now 30 years after my introduction to SRV, I can publicly say “thank you Stevie.”

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