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How Stevie Ray Vaughan hit the high notes of hope

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on November 13, 2020 Published on November 13, 2020

Super stars: Stevie Ray Vaughan flanked by his Double Trouble mates Chris Layton (left) and Tommy Shannon   -  image courtesy wikimedia commons

On Deepavali, an ode to a musician who epitomised the victory of good over evil

* About the album name, Vaughan said he called it In Step because “I’m finally in step with life, in step with myself, in step with my music”. The album’s liner notes include the quote “Thank God the elevator’s broken”, a reference to the 12-step de-addiction programme proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous.

As the festival of lights brightens the fag end of an otherwise dreary and virus-ridden year, it is perhaps the appropriate time to remind ourselves of the underlying message of the victory of good over evil that Deepavali brings with it, and the hope it embodies.

This idea of victory and hope has been the highlight of some of the most remarkable redemption stories in the blues. One of the greatest musicians of all time fell to the evils of addiction before cleaning up and striking the high notes of hope with his mastery over the six strings tied to exquisite wood. This is the story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, a giant who strode the blues scene with the swagger of the greats, then fell to the lure of the dark side before sobering up and rocking our socks with their blinding talent.

Stevie Ray Vaughan had started early. Born in 1954, he began playing the guitar at the age of seven, inspired by the talent of his brother — and later to be another blues legend — Jimmie. By 1972 he had dropped out of school to play the guitar while moving from Dallas to Austin in Texas, and had created the kind of buzz that only a phenomenally gifted artist could drum up.

In 1982, SRV, as he had come to be known, along with his band Double Trouble, set the stage on fire at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival.

People magazine’s James McBride wrote: “He seemed to come out of nowhere, a Zorro-type figure in a riverboat gambler’s hat, roaring into the ’82 Montreux festival with a ’59 Stratocaster at his hip and two flame-throwing sidekicks he called Double Trouble. He had no album, no record contract, no name, but he reduced the stage to a pile of smoking cinders and, afterward, everyone wanted to know who he was.”

Their brand of the blues so impressed David Bowie that he invited SRV to play on his album Let’s Dance. The debut album contract was not far behind, and Texas Flood, the epic debut on Epic Records, had critics and fans expressing their appreciation on reams of paper and at the cash registers of record stores, respectively. The world had been painted in the colour of the blues.

The other thing, however, that he had started doing early was stealing from his father’s whisky collection. Starting at six years of age, his dependence on alcohol — and, later, cocaine — almost led to his losing the ability to play.

The turning point was a near-death experience during a 1986 tour of Denmark, where, after collapsing because of severe dehydration, the guitarist-songwriter-singer was told by doctors that unless he cleaned up, he wouldn’t live for more than a month. He checked into rehab, came out sober, and crafted what was to become his most critically and commercially acclaimed album. In Step contained such classics as the foot-stomping The House is Rockin’ and the balm-on-the-nerves smooth Riviera Paradise. And then there was the raucous Crossfire, the song that gave him his only number one chart topper. About the album name, Vaughan said he called it In Step because “I’m finally in step with life, in step with myself, in step with my music”. The album’s liner notes include the quote “Thank God the elevator’s broken”, a reference to the 12-step de-addiction programme proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous.

He became one of the most sought after blues musicians, a true icon of the genre, and an inspiration for a whole generation of long-haired, stars-in-the-eyes young axe-wielders (as the cooler term for guitar players goes!), before his life was so tragically cut short by a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, while he was returning from another soul-searing exhibition of the blues at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, where he had performed with another legend, Eric Clapton.

Slowhand, as Clapton is called, has had his own epic battles with addiction that he has overcome to continue giving his fans and music lovers something to shake their heads at, and to shake them again in disbelief at the talent that could so easily have been lost to the lure of addiction.

SRV’s story, which started when he started playing the guitar at seven, led to the man becoming the legend. Fortunately for all of us adoring fans, the story of his stealing his abusive father’s whisky at the age of six is the one that was overshadowed, and the conquest of hope over despair has its befitting soundtrack every time one of SRV’s tunes starts to make us tap our feet.

So how about lighting up this Deepavali with the sounds of hope?

Sarthak Kaushik   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

Sarthak Kaushik is an RJ at Ishq 104.8 FM, Delhi;

Twitter: @radiochaos

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Published on November 13, 2020
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