updated from September 21 2009 — RIP B.B. King. You will be missed
There are moments in every B.B. King solo when the man hits a certain combination of notes, or bends the string in a way so uniquely his own, it’s almost as if he just leaned over and whispered his life’s secrets in your ear. B.B. King is that rare animal—a distinctive blues stylist. So unique is his talent that he’s taken possession of an entire position on the guitar neck, on that might as well be known as “the B spot.” Read more
Many guitar players of all levels consider taking guitar lessons. Lessons can be a wonderful thing and can move a student quickly along their musical path, very often at a much faster rate than independent study alone could accomplish. Read more
It was a dark and rainy night. The courthouse clock struck midnight; a stray dog howled. It was all too beautiful when the staff of Gear Vault convened for their semi-annual secret meeting with the confines of the beloved cinder block chamber they call their “office.” Their agenda? To decide the 20 most important people in guitar. Read more
The Greatest Guitar Hero, Jimi Hendrix still remains one of the most influential forces in rock music. Pulling unprecedented sounds out of his Fender Strat, Hendrix challenged musicians and guitarists to explore a wild new world of tones and textures, dazzling and confounding guitar greats like Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton, who still speak of Hendrix with a hushed reverence. Other players before him might have experimented with feedback and excessive distortion, Hendrix turned those practices into an art fashion. He was the first player to use the whammy bar as an instrument unto itself, making his Stratocaster talk, scream and howl. Read more
You are true blue musician, a lover of all things sound related, and a consummate professional. Naturally, you’re going to want to destroy your guitar or instrument as part of your live show. Read more
No matter what anyone says, every musician pulls influence and is inspired by at least another musician(s) in his or her lifetime. For me, my list of artists spans a few different genres, and I really don’t think some of my playing would be what it is today if not for them. Read more
When the phrase “guitar solo” comes to mind, you picture a guy just shredding apart a fretboard on stage to a crowd going absolutely crazy. This may hold true for some instances, but there are just as many great, even better guitar solos that only consist of a few notes…and are absolutely breathtaking. Read more
Two of the most revered guitar players in the blues/rock universe are Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both men helped define the sounds of their respective eras and are icons of the instrument and are most likely responsible for launching more guitar-playing careers (both real and air) than any post-Beatle guitarist outside of Eddie Van Halen. Today, however, your humble man of letters here at Gear-Vault has been given the difficult task of pitting Jimi and SRV in a head-to-head battle for musical supremacy, which is truly no easy task. In the flyover, both man share many similar qualities, from their explosions into public consciousness to their preference for Fender Stratocasters to their untimely deaths. When examined more closely, however, there are some major differences between the two that just might give one the edge over the other. Want to watch the fur fly? Keep reading. Read more
To understand what made Stevie tick, to get the whole story of the man behind the music, we have to turn to his closest confidants, the people who knew him best and miss him most. Given the opportunity to tell Stevie’s tale and open up, revealing things they’d never revealed before.
At a young age, Stevie remembers a western swing band called Texas Playboys, they hung out at his house all the time. “They were a lot of character hanging around” Stevie continues ”They would do some playing and liked to get drunk.” Every once in awhile his dad would yell [affects heavy rural Texas accent], “Hey Jim, Steve, come out here and show them what you can do!”. We can all imagine little Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan performing some music with the Roy Rogers roping a cow guitar.
Stevie got his first guitar when he was just seven years of age given to him by Michael Quinn. It was a Roy Rogers guitar with the picture of a cowboy roping a cow. Stevie also had a blanket that matched his Roy Rogers guitar.
Jimmie gave him his first guitar lesson. “Jimmie showed me a lot of stuff on guitar, but there was a time when Jimmie warned me, “if you ask me to show you anything again, I’ll kick your ass.” Well I did, and he did” –Stevie continued on “My brother Jimmie actually was one of the biggest influences on my playing. He really was the reason I started to play, watching him and seeing what could be done.”
Seventeen years after his death, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s influence only continues to grow. It can be heard in bar-rooms and arenas around the globe, in the playing of everyone from protégés like Kenny Wayne Shepherd to mentors like Buddy Guy to rockers like Mike McCready and Kirk Hammett. It can be seen in the popularity of vintage gear and straight-forward, ear-ringing tone, both of which were considered passé before Stevie proved there was plenty of influence in Fender Strats.
But perhaps the most telling evidence of Stevie’s continued relevance is that his music still speaks volumes to millions of listeners. Some voices are stilled by death, but his has grown only louder.
The first flash comes over the Associated Press wire at about 7 a.m. on Monday, August 27, 1990: “Copter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin. Five fatalities, including a musician.”
Keen-eyed staffers at the Austin American Statesman catch that item and begin putting two and two together. The AP updates its story every half hour with fresh details: The mysterious “musician” becomes “a member of Eric Clapton’s entourage”—and then, “a guitarist.” By 9:30, rumors spread that Stevie Ray Vaughan was aboard the doomed craft.
At 11:30, Clapton’s manager confirms the worst: Vaughan was indeed among the passengers in the five-seat helicopter, which slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside near southeastern Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley ski resort. Stevie Ray had boarded the aircraft after he and a stellar cast of guitarists that included Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Buddy Guy performed before a crowd of 25,000 at a blues show at the resort. The wildly successful show concluded with Vaughan, Clapton and the others taking part in an all-star finale/jam on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” It was a short time after this triumph that Stevie Ray met his fate.
On Friday August 31, just a few days after the accident, more than 3,000 of the faithful gather at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas, braving 100-degree heat to say farewell to Stevie Ray. Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt and Billy Gibbons, among others, join the assembled mourners in an emotional chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Crowding the burial site are more than 150 floral arrangements that have been sent from around the world. Nearby stands a placard: “We will cherish what you have given us and weep for the music left unplayed.”
“Unfortunately, you never fully grasp someone’s greatness or importance until they’re gone” says B.B King. “And I think that’s true with Stevie. As the years go by and he’s not here, it just becomes more and more clear how special he was, and how much he’s missed.”
Missed so much that hungry fans eagerly await news of “lost” SRV tracks discovered in the vaults, crossing their fingers with the hope that a mother-load of unreleased material sits waiting to be unearthed and aired.
At least some of these prayers were answered on March 23, 1999 when Sony Legacy released Stevie’s four studio albums with Double Trouble (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step), each of them were updated with four bonus tracks recorded in the same time frame as the original. A new Greatest Hits, Volume Two was released back in 1999 as well and both are still hot sellers to this date.
Stevie Ray Vaughan is a portrait of an artist completely dedicated to his craft, and of a man who had wrestled with his demons and emerged victorious, with a new lease on life and rededicated passion for his life’s work. Stevie was undoubtedly making the finest music of his life when he died at age 35.
Stevie Ray Vaughan died, August 27, 1990, just a few moments after midnight in a helicopter crash after being in the air just a few seconds in East Troy, Wisconsin was just a short distance from his destination in Chicago and his new sweetheart Janna, Stevie’s former fiancé.
I’ll admit it. I love pop metal: Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue, Def Leppard. Bring on the cheese. I’m in. Despite the fact that much (though not all) of the music was awful, I still enjoy it today. Pop metal was the soundtrack for a good portion of my childhood. There was an honesty to it. That’s right. I said “honesty.”
Conventional wisdom says that music from the late 80’s was too “fake.” Too much hairspray, too many cookie cutter songs, too many of the same “sluts and concert footage” videos on MTV over and over again. Fake. Then the bands from the Seattle grunge scene (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc.) broke the mold and supposedly fixed everything. These bands were “real.” They wore flannel shirts, didn’t jump around on stage, wrote depressing songs and generally connected with the anti-corporate rock sentiment that had been building throughout the pop metal era.
I am not here to tell anyone what’s good music and what isn’t. I am here, however, to overturn the hypocritical notion that pop metal bands were “fake” and grunge bands were “real.”
Pop metal bands wanted to be rock stars, and freely admitted it. Pop metal bands wanted to have sex with lots of girls (your wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc.) and freely admitted it. Pop metal bands wanted to party and smoke / drink / snort various substances, and freely admitted it. They wanted to be rock stars so badly that they were willing to pay the ultimate price: being seen and photographed wearing a horrific amount of spandex, makeup and hairspray. They played huge stadiums, sold tons of records, and cashed huge checks.
That is the ultimate honesty… “I want to party, get rich and bang chicks, and I will look and act like a complete idiot in order to do so.”
Grunge bands, on the other hand, stared at their shoes a lot. They were part of a reactionary movement against the extroversion of the 80’s. Grunge bands were uncomfortable with the idea of being rock stars, or at least projected that image. They wrote songs about darker, often politically charged topics like teen suicide, domestic abuse and poverty. They played huge stadiums, sold tons of records and cashed huge checks.
I’ve got an idea. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being a rock star, then don’t be a rock star. Don’t sign a major label recording contract. Don’t play arenas and stadiums. Definitely don’t cash those huge checks. Only rich capitalist a-holes (you know, all those people you don’t like) cash huge checks. Stay with that independent label and stick to the local underground scene. It’s “who you are,” right? RIGHT?!?!?
OK, rant over. That’s been building up for about 20 years.
Again, I’m not here to pass judgment on the quality of anyone’s music, but merely to point out that being a rock star yet clinging to an underdog, everyman, indie label image while at the same time going platinum and playing to tens of thousands of people a night is the fakiest faky McFake-a-lot hypocrisy of all time, at least musically speaking.
There. I said it. Deal with it.
About the author: Dan Vuksanovich received his Master of Music degree in classical guitar performance from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University in 1999. He currently teaches and blogs about how to get better at guitar via his website, www.whyisuckatguitar.com.