When Stevie Ray Vaughan died 25 years ago today, he was on the verge of a second act comparable to his friend Eric Clapton's. After years of substance abuse, during which he managed to record three stunning albums of virtuosic Stratocaster sizzle with his longtime band Double Trouble, Vaughan was clean and sober, newly engaged and ready to rumble following the release of his critically acclaimed recovery-rock classic, In Step. A musician whose driving, celebratory sound disguised anxious shadows, Vaughan seemed on the verge of finally making all his dreams a reality. Fate had other plans, but Vaughan's influence endures in the musicians responsible for these 10 terrific cover versions of his music.
The first track on Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's debut album, 1983's Texas Flood, "Love Struck Baby" is a high-energy Chuck Berry tribute with a little T-Bone Walker on the side. Robert Cray was among the performers at the Wisconsin blues festival that ended up being Vaughan's final show. Cray performed "Love Struck Baby" at the 1995 SRV tribute concert organized by Eric Clapton for the Austin City Limits TV series. Vaughan often used "Love Struck Baby," written the night he moved in with his then-wife Lenny, as a vehicle for some behind-the-back soloing in a "Johnny B. Goode" vein. Cray rocks out elegantly and gracefully honors Vaughan.
Jimmie Vaughan chose his younger brother's first radio hit to perform at Stevie Ray's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony earlier this year. He was joined by John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr. and Doyle Bramhall II — three guitarists who all learned a thing or two from SRV. During the induction ceremony, Mayer spoke of the late guitarist's emotional style. "It's a rage without anger," he said. "It's devotional, it's religious." The four guitarists take solos on this Texas shuffle from Texas Flood in styles ranging from relatively sweet (Mayer) to outright acidic (Jimmie). SRV wrote the tune to celebrate a happy relationship whose downturn he would later commemorate in "I'm Cryin'."
Since 2013, Korean music teacher Luna Lee has been posting cover versions of classic rock hits played on the gayageum, a traditional 21-stringed Korean instrument that's been around since the sixth century. Her version of SRV's scorching two-minute instrumental tribute to guitarist Lonnie Mack, the lead track on Vaughan's 1984 album Can't Stand the Weather, followed a viral take on SRV's epic interpretation of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." You can also hear Lee's cover of SRV's version of "Little Wing" on her 2013 debut album. In interviews, Lee has extolled the gayageum's note-bending nong-hyung technique as being perfect for playing the blues.
Acoustic 12-string slingers John Mayer and Doyle Bramhall II performed what's arguably the highlight of SRV's 1985 album Soul to Soul at Eric Clapton's 2013 Crossroads Festival. Bramhall dedicated the song to its author, his late father, who died in 2011 at age 62. Written for Vaughan, the song attests to the turn of a new leaf — "Get away from the blind side of life," sings Vaughan, "me and my back-door moves ain't no more" — but was likely recorded in a state of overindulgence. Where SRV punctuates the shuffling number with short, stinging solos, Mayer and Bramhall make it a casual excuse for some optimism.
Asked if he'd like to be able to play like Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan reportedly replied, "No, I want to be Hendrix." Apart from his famous cover of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," Vaughan probably didn't come closer than "Lenny," a gorgeous instrumental ballad inspired by a pair of Jimi songs — "Little Wing" (covered on the posthumous The Sky Is Crying) and "Angel." The simmering jazzer was written for, and titled after, his wife, Lenora "Lenny" Bailey, and occupied special real estate as the final track on his debut album. Vaughan performed it, both in the studio and onstage, on a 1960 Stratocaster also called "Lenny," which Guitar Center plunked down $623,500 for at Eric Clapton's 2004 Crossroads auction. Los Angeles-based blues-rocker Corey Stevens, who kicked off his 1995 debut Blue Drops of Rain with a touching tribute to SRV titled "Gone Too Long," performed a terrific extended version of the instrumental in 2009.
Yes, Trevor Rabin, the flashy guitarist who propelled prog-rockers-gone-chart-toppers Yes to multiplatinum glory back in 1983. The Stevie Ray original "Tightrope" was a concise highlight of 1989's In Step. Co-written with Doyle Bramhall, Vaughan sang of "Walkin' the tightrope, steppin' on my friends" before looking in the mirror and realizing that he's actually his own best friend. Vaughan's solos are terse yet profound as they leap up and down a major-minor scale hybrid. Rabin matches SRV's technique and energy on a track from 1996's Crossfire: A Salute to Stevie Ray, accompanied by current Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood on bass.
After he got sober, Stevie Ray Vaughan used the final track on Soul to Soul as an excuse to both jam at length and testify about his newfound sobriety. Vaughan wrote "Life Without You" following the death of his luthier friend Charley Wirz, saying that it concerned "what drugs do to people. It kills people in their heart." In 2011, soul-gospel singer Mike Farris likewise used "Life Without You" to testify passionately. The occasion was the 20-year reunion of Double Trouble, which the recovering addict and Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies singer fronted for a time following their guitarist's death. "Do you believe in the power of faith, hope, courage and a dream tonight?" Farris asks the audience following an impassioned Bart Walker guitar solo.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble topped the Mainstream Rock singles chart only once, with 1989's "Crossfire," the searing man-on-the-run megahit from In Step. With SRV embargoed from writing or recording until his divorce from Lenny was finalized (a process that took two years), the Double Trouble trio wrote the music while Austin songwriting spouses Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth supplied the lyrics. Their words, according to Ellsworth, reflect SRV's daily struggle during his recovery. Carter — who's written for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Palmer, John Anderson and Johnny Depp — also leads long-running band the Blame, who went to town on the tune during a 2012 TV-studio performance featuring a five-guitar army that included a nearly hidden Cindy Cashdollar on slide.
Producer Jim Gaines nearly ran out of tape while recording Vaughan's perfect first take of In Step's nine-minute closing instrumental "Riviera Paradise." Vaughan's jazziest track is a slow, shimmering slice of heaven, with gorgeous solos from both the guitarist and Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans. Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan gave it a glorious reinterpretation on Crossfire: A Salute to Stevie Ray, replacing Vaughan's cascading lines with his own signature 10-fingered keyboard tapping.
Longtime Vaughan friend/writing partner Doyle Bramhall and his wife Barbara Logan co-wrote the deeply felt track that concludes Vaughan's posthumous album The Sky Is Crying. The title of the tune, which Vaughan performs accompanied only by his 12-string acoustic guitar, seems to suggest the needle and the damage done. But Bramhall said the song actually concerns his long friendship with SRV, who was living "on the top" while Bramhall (a former member of Austin's Chessmen alongside Stevie's brother Jimmie) suffered on the street. They both made it eventually, but only one would survive. SRV was "living the dream," according to "Life by the Drop," and the dream looms far in the distance for eight-year-old Quintin Golonka, who made his live debut accompanying his guitar teacher's vocal in an oddly compelling YouTube video, summing up the eternal appeal of the blues.