February 14, 2013

Paying Tribute To Stevie Ray

In the spring semester of my senior year at the University of Michigan, I bought a ticket to see Eric Clapton at the Palace in Auburn Hills, MI. I couldn't find anyone sufficiently motivated to go with me so I went solo, not the first or last time I went to a show by myself. Before the concert, I was talking to a guy sitting next to me who raved about a Stevie Ray Vaughan show he had seen two nights earlier at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. He questioned if Clapton would measure up to Vaughan. I thought this guy was insane to question Clapton's preeminence since I really didn't listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan's music or understand how good he was at that time.

Halfway through Clapton's show, which I thought was lackluster to that point, Vaughan joined EC on stage and sat in on "Before You Accuse Me" and "After Midnight." Without question, Stevie Ray torched Clapton that night; he absolutely blew him off the stage. And when he was done hosting, Clapton, as if embarrassed, picked up on the energy brought on by Stevie Ray and finished the show strong.

Almost 23 years later, Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of my favorite guitarists. I have every one of his solo and Double Trouble studio albums but his live stuff is what I really love. His Live at Carnegie Hall is one of my favorite albums of all time and the double album which documents his 1982 and 1985 shows at the Montreux Jazz Festival is almost as good. I never got to see Stevie Ray Vaughan play a complete show by himself because about three months after I saw him that night in Auburn Hills (from waaaaay back in the Palace, I might add), he died in a helicopter accident after leaving an outdoor show near Milwaukee.

Vaughan was born and raised in Dallas, Texas but dropped out of high school at 17 and moved to Austin, where he really cut his teeth playing clubs in various groups. So Austin, which has such an amazing music scene, became his home and he likewise became a son of that city. In October 1993, a little more than three years after his death, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan was erected in Auditorium Shores park in Austin. I just had to make the walk from my hotel, across the river to the park to see his statue, listen to my iPod and think about the great music Stevie Ray left behind for me and everyone else to enjoy. Gone 23 years now, I hope he's still playing the blues somewhere.

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