“The problem with taking amps to a shop is that they come back sounding like another amp.” — Stevie Ray Vaughan

It’s his birthday today.

It’s a bonus he came along in an era of TV specials, and televised performances, and video-taped blah blah blah, because there are tons of live performance clips – and you can’t really get the totality of who Stevie Ray Vaughan was as a performer without experiencing him live (even if it’s second-hand, watching concert footage). So there’s a lot of stuff out there. You can go down the YouTube rabbit hole and spend hours there (in a way you can’t with the guys from the previous generations, where live clips are rare and of poor quality). He is thrilling to watch.

I came to SRV because of This Fine Gentleman – I mean, I knew who SRV was, and probably knew some of his songs, but he wasn’t in my rotation of musicians I listened to. But Window-Boy was a fan and had actually attended Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre (which is not, actually, Alpine in location OR a valley – but never mind). I do not know why I remember these things – seriously, these brain cells could be used for something else – but I remember where we were when he told me that story, of the concert, AND of his high-maintenance anorexic girlfriend at the time, who was with him, and was feeling faint due to zero food, and so he grumpily went to the concession stand to buy her hot dogs or whatever, and MISSED some of the concert (which he still seemed pissed about). He told me this story when we were sitting at Southport Lanes, that first summer we met. I paid very VERY close attention to him at the time (well, always) and so everything he said made some kind of impact. He was such an unknown, so … WEIRD. I couldn’t picture him going to a concert. This inability to imagine him in everyday situations was not just a quirk of mine. He took a flight to Los Angeles once, and my friend Ann Marie said, “I can’t imagine him boarding a plane.” “I know. Me neither. Like … how would that even GO?” Guys, I think he’d just show his ticket and walk on like any other human. hahahaha Something about him, though, seemed too wild and uncontrollable for anything as banal as handing over a plane ticket to be scanned.

But anyway, he told me this whole story about Stevie Ray Vaughan and it got me curious, since I didn’t have any Stevie Ray Vaughan in my collection of CASSETTE TAPES. So I went to Tower Records and bought the first one I found, The Sky Is Crying. To this day, “Life By the Drop” reminds me of that summer…

… the summer of the fiery-hot-first-flames of that relationship (which would end up meaning so much more but at the time, I assumed it was Of the Moment and “Life By the Drop” spoke directly to that Of-The-Moment-Ness. It was the right song at the right time. It was a reminder: Live life by the drop. Stay in the moment. I really REALLY needed that reminder (still do). These aren’t even memories. They’re a part of my DNA)

While there’s so much to say about Stevie Ray Vaughan – and I am sure people commenting here will add invaluable insights into what this man did, and who he was as an artist – here is one of my favorite clips.

In the midst of playing “Look at Little Sister”, in the midst of his guitar “break” (which weren’t really “breaks” with him, they were the Whole Shebang), he breaks a string. Watch the smoothness of the hand-off, with the smooth-as-hell roadie, and SRV barely missing a chord in the transition. What I love about this is the sheer level of professionalism and competence (at such a high level) on display.

In 2019, I went to the “Play It Loud” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, to see all the guitars of the LEGENDS, and Vaughan’s Stratocaster was there. I didn’t get a picture of the whole thing – Sheila, get it together – but I did zoom in on his initials in the pickguard which I thought were particularly awesome. A battered well-worn instrument, this was SRV’s main guitar throughout his career, with Double Trouble and solo. The main body of the guitar dates to 1963, and of course SRV tweaked it to death to get all the effects he wanted.

“I mainly use Stratocasters. I like a lot of different kinds of guitars, but for what I do, it seems that a Stratocaster is the most versatile. I can pretty much get any sound out of it, and I use stock pickups.” — Stevie Ray Vaughan

And finally: My brother wrote about the time he went to see Stevie Ray Vaughan. As a punk-rock fan, SRV wasn’t on my brother’s radar. Bren walks you through his experience: getting to the concert, watching the opening act, and then SRV coming on, and what happened to my brother when watching this Maestro do his thing. It gives me goosebumps.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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