Some Hellbound readers may see this review of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s new box set on the site and be confused: “Stevie Ray Vaighan’s not metal,” they may scream, “he’s a blues guitarist!” This is true. SRV IS a blues guitarist (and a damned good one), but his work garners mention on Hellbound for a few reasons. First, SRV’s guitar work found its way into a few unusual locals while he was still alive, including one of David Bowie’s records (and Bowie DOES get covered by Hellbound) but — even more importantly — without the blues there would BE NO METAL. Most of the metal acts of a certain vintage cite many blues players as influences. Black Sabbath? Listened to blues. Judas Priest? Inspired by the blues. Motorhead, Place of Skulls and Metallica? Each and every one of them owes a debt to the blues and have shown it pretty plainly, on occasion.
Still think this might be a mistake, reader? How do you qualify Jimi Hendrix? As hard rock? Hendrix was so steeped in the blues it’s astounding, and Stevie Ray Vaughan owed an enormous debt to Hendrix.
Trust us reader, SRV deserves to be here. Read up and get schooled on why.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The Complete Epic Recordings Collection (12-disc Box Set)
To say that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s influence and impact on both pop music and pop culture has been remarkable is an understatement so great that it’s almost comical. When the guitarist first appeared on the outskirts of the pop mainstream in the early Eighties, the blues no longer really existed anywhere in the mainstream. New Wave had younger audiences hypnotized and “artists” like Genesis had the adult market cornered. Other than Springsteen, there wasn’t a whole lot of working class interest on the charts, and little in the way of guitar hero worship too. That landscape, and all the dominant musical values on it, were the first things Stevie Ray Vaughan set about changing when he released Texas Flood in 1983. The album suddenly made the blues cool again in a way that others (like Huey Lewis and Randy Bachman – to name only the smallest number of players) had tried but not even scratched the surface of success with. Suddenly kids had a new aspiration which had nothing to do with synthesizers, and started digging their fathers’ Fender Stratocasters out of closets en masse to discover the joys of 12 bars of music capped with a solo. It was an incredible phenomenon; perhaps one of SRV’s greatest gifts proved to be his ability to inspire others to get playing – now well-established names like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang are only the smallest tip of a mammoth iceberg packed with players who owe a clear and obvious stylistic debt to Vaughan – and even those who didn’t pick up guitars at least discovered the blues. It could even be contended that the original roster of Fat Possum artists owe a debt to Stevie Ray Vaughan, if only because of the mammoth void he left when he died in a helicopter crash in 1990.
That, as they say, is a far-reaching influence.
The interest in the blues that SRV re-ignited still holds sway in the mainstream even twenty-four years after the guitarist’s passing but, perhaps to fan the embers and get them cooking again, Epic/Legacy has elected to present a front-to-back examination of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s songbook in the form of this 12-disc box set, and the proof of its value is obvious on first listen. In one handy little box, listeners can be schooled and get inspired – it’s great.
Just saying it’s “great in principle” is one thing, but actually digging in and listening is quite another. Even listening now – almost a quarter-century after the guitarist’s death – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music continues to glitter with passion sparks of hellfire. Longtime fans will be delighted when they discover that tracks like “Texas Flood,” “Pride and Joy,” “Crossfire” and “Tightrope” all continue to soar and sear senses with minimal digital “improvements” made, and they’ll find themselves reveling happily in the fact that their personal favorite songs (like “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” SRV’s covers of “Little Wing” and “Voodoo Child” and “Wall Of Denial,” in this writer’s case) all glow as brightly as the hits for their sound quality.
That experience makes this set worth its asking price alone but, even better, Legacy has gone a step further and included some material which has been sought after for years but seldom found, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s first release (a nine-track promo album). Because it was cut live in Austin in 1980 and mostly just sold off the stage before the band got signed, fans will love to hear how little SRV changed, even after signing with Epic; his husky voice barks brilliantly through these early performances of “Love Struck Baby” and “Tin Pan Alley” with a great, raw, lack of regard for how his throat might feel the next day, and his Stratocaster shows how little production his performances may have needed in addition to the good microphones usually purchased by recording studios.
The same kind of fine performance is showcased on A Legend In The Making – Live At The El Mocambo as well. Without meaning to overstate the point, A Legend In The Making captures Double Trouble at their first Canadian performance after the release of Texas Flood in 1983 and the performance really lives up to the album’s title. There is a certain anxiety laced into songs like “Testify” and “Tell Me” which implies that the band is really riding on edge – they don’t know how this music’s going to do for a crowd this new and this far from home – but they’re bulling through anyway; singing for their supper and working hard to win hearts. Because of that earnest performance, A Legend In The Making will find a welcome home with listeners and longtime fans who always quietly hope for new music to be parceled out from the vaults – this particular offering is a great little gift which really nicely bolsters SRV’s catalogue here.
With all of the above now on the record, there can’t possibly be any question in the minds of readers – but there’s no reason not to say it: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Complete Epic Recordings is absolutely, positively a great set. While some people might complain that Vaughan’s Unplugged set (which was actually split with Steve Vai) isn’t included, those naysayers are really just LOOKING for a reason to complain. What’s here is really everything a fan could ask for and everything a new, interested listener needs to discover Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The Complete Epic Recordings Collection 12-disc Box Set is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.