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Opinion: Vaughan’s ‘Texas Flood’ a blues, rock classic

February 7, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer (mmiller@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

This week I review Sony Legacy's re-issue of the 30th anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's classic "Texas Flood," originally released in 1983.

The newly re-mastered, double-CD reissue includes the original album plus one bonus track and another disc of Stevie and his band performing live at Ripley's Music Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 30, 1983. The set retails for $11.99 on Amazon.com, which is a pretty good price for a two-CD set.

Stevie Ray Vaughan's appearance at the beginning of the 1980s seemed unusual in that no one was signing blues-rock bands in an era when big hair and synth bands were all the rage. No one seemed to care about guitar anymore, particularly if it was played well.

But trends in pop and rock only last so long before boredom sets in and tastes change. And that's actually one of the beautiful things about rock music in general, as it's cyclical - everything becomes anew again when a generation discovers there's more to music than the flavor of the week.

In fact, it was a dance album that really helped bring Stevie Ray to the general attention of the jaded public's ears.

Vaughan had performed during blues night at the Montreux Jazz Festival the year before, where he and his electric band were roundly booed by much of the purist and elitist audience.

But there were two sets of ears in the crowd that heard something different, and David Bowie and Jackson Browne both raved about Vaughan's set and offered their assistance.

Vaughan later added his stellar playing to Bowie's "Let's Dance," which became the Thin White Duke's best-selling album and introduced Vaughan's playing to a brand new audience.

Browne offered to let Stevie Ray and Double Trouble record at his studio and spread the word. Also, Columbia legend John Hammond, who "discovered" and promoted legends such as Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few, also became involved in Vaughan's career. Hammond was renowned for his uncanny ability to find the next exciting thing, and he helped the Austin, Texas, native get signed to Epic Records.

"Texas Flood" was the result - a smoldering romp through different rock and blues styles, including Chuck Berry-esque raveups, slow blues and instrumentals that displayed the band's prowess and Vaughan's near-perfect blues chops. The influence of rockers Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and blues guitarist Albert King were obvious, only Vaughan had taken their mojo to a whole new level.

One of the most astonishing aspects of Vaughan's music was how huge his guitar sounded. Playing a Fender Stratocaster - a guitar known for sounding thin - Vaughan, like Hendrix, had the gift of turning the single coil beauty into a raging beast through combination of a modified guitar, remarkably heavy gauge strings and going through a combination of amplifiers at blistering volume levels. The result was an entirely new way to hear the guitar - highly compressed with lots of sustain but clean enough to hear even the smallest nuances in Vaughan's virtuoistic approach. I think it's safe to say Stevie Ray's sound was unlike any other guitarists, before or since.

And Vaughan also had soul. Endlessly inventive and inspired in the blue-rock idiom, Stevie Ray Vaughan was the real deal.

The public responded in kind, and word spread quickly this was someone who was completely different, and Vaughan soon became a hot commodity.

While his guitar gymnastics were something to behold, Vaughan, unlike Hendrix, wasn't a gifted songwriter, and much of the lyrical content on "Texas Flood" wasn't going to win Vaughan any poetry awards. But what he lacked in lyricism was more than made up for by the passion and even humor of his playing.

The title cut, a long, slow blues featuring Stevie Ray's stinging micro-bends, was by far the best song on the original album. Vaughan's ability to ratchet up the tension with six strings is really above and beyond what most guitarists are capable of, and his approach was both mature and fully formed by the time "Texas Flood" was released.

Vaughan was virtually raised in the small clubs of Austin, where he honed his chops and developed a reputation as a stunning live performer. The live set included here at Ripley's Music Hall is a tour-de-force of incendiary, blazing blues and rock guitar-playing. I have a lot of live Stevie Ray, where he really shined and took chances he wouldn't in the studio, and I have to say this is best live Vaughan I've ever heard. He is absolutely on top of his game here, and the set culminates in one of his best interpretations of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" I've ever heard. This unreleased set is earth-shaking and well worth the price of admission alone.

Like Hendrix, we will never see another like Stevie Ray Vaughan. This anniversary edition of one of his most influential albums and is highly recommended.

 
 

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