When I was first becoming a really serious music fan, Stevie Ray Vaughan was just one of the guitar greats. It was just assumed but it was hard to really question it. If you talked to more knowledgeable (inevitably male) music fans about which guitarists to listen to, SRV was always on the list. I downloaded his version of “Little Wing” well before I had heard most of the music that I currently actively listen to.
But as an older person, with a greater sense of history, it’s hard to understand how everyone could get some damn excited about a guy playing blues rock in 1983. The blues had been essentially dead as a major commercial force since it had been turned into metal. Suddenly here’s this guitarist, not doing anything particularly innovative, and with a selection of songs that is, well, middling, and he’s a star. What the hell is happening?
Well, SRV is very, very good at playing guitar. And though he didn’t necessarily change the way the guitar was played, he certainly has created a unique, unmistakable style, incorporating certain techniques that weren’t that common in blues playing. And, of course, there’s his tone, which is the real thing that everyone gravitates to. (It’s hilarious reading contemporary reviews of this record, as the negative ones usually mention that he isn’t unique enough. That’s really funny, given how much like SRV he sounds here. The man has an unmistakable sound.)
The other thing that helped make this so popular, I think, is that the people (um, men) who worship guitar players hadn’t had anyone like this to get excited about in some time. Think about it. The most recent “guitar hero” to appear on the scene was Van Halen. If you were young enough, he was incredible. But I bet there was a whole group of men raised on blues rock who found Van Halen off-putting. Here’s a more traditional guy with amazing chops to save us all from two-handed tapping and big hair.
So, yes, this album features some incredible, indelible – legendary, even – guitar playing. If that is your thing, then this record should be a big enough deal. But it is still just a blues album, with few concessions to the 1980s – the production quality, a few elements of SRV’s technique. It is an inherently conservative record and that’s not something I can acclaim as a classic.
- “Love Struck Baby” (Stevie Ray Vaughan) – 2:24
- “Pride and Joy” (Vaughan) – 3:40
- “Texas Flood” (Larry Davis, Joseph Wade Scott) – 5:21
- “Tell Me” (Howlin’ Wolf) – 2:49
- “Testify” (Ronald Isley, O’Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley) – 3:25
- “Rude Mood” (Vaughan) – 4:40
- “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (Buddy Guy) – 2:47
- “Dirty Pool” (Doyle Bramhall, Vaughan) – 5:02
- “I’m Cryin'” (Vaughan) – 3:42
- “Lenny” (Vaughan) – 4:58
- Stevie Ray Vaughan – guitar, vocals
- Tommy Shannon – bass
- Chris Layton – drums