It's hard sometimes to remember what the blues music world was like before Stevie Ray Vaughan borrowed some studio time from Jackson Browne and recorded his first album, Texas Flood, over just two days in late 1982. SRV almost single-handedly revived the blues rock genre and propelled the 12-bar Texas-style blues back to the top of the charts in a recording career that, sadly, lasted only from the summer of 1982 until his untimely death in a helicopter crash in the summer of 1990.
Vaughan was a regional act in Texas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, playing clubs in Austin and other Texas venues. Invited to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1982, SRV quickly attracted the attention of both Jackson Browne and David Bowie at the festival. Browne immediately offered SRV the free use of his studio to record Vaughan's first album, and Bowie enlisted SRV to play on his upcoming Let's Dance album.
Just as listeners of Robert Johnson's blues recordings in the 1930s thought they were hearing two guitars with Johnson skillfully combining rhythm and lead playing using just his two hands and one guitar, one might listen to the isolated guitar track of SRV playing "Pride and Joy" and hear a full band with rhythm, lead, and even percussion. SRV's playing combines all these elements at once with a casual virtuousity that is astounding.
Hearing SRV's guitar work on his first album is eye-opening, reminding us of just how much one artist with a phenomenal gift of raw talent can transform our musical expectations. In such a short career, SRV defined the sound of modern Texas-style blues, and produced his own signature tone and performance style that, in the years since, has been often imitated but rarely duplicated. That "SRV tone" remains as distinctive and elusive today, despite so many thousands of players strapping heavy 13-guage strings onto their Stratocasters, plugging in to an Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, and trying their hardest to sound just like Stevie Ray Vaughan. But SRV's tone, as we all know, was not just a product of the strings he used and the amplifiers and effects pedals he plugged into. It grew from his soul and spread through his fingers and expanded in our ears and hearts.
In just a few short years of making record albums, Stevie Ray Vaughan resurrected the blues and put it back atop the Billboard charts. He combined the simplicity of the 12-bar blues pattern from Robert Johnson's 1930's recordings with the technical ferocity and creativity of the 1960's Jimi Hendrix, to remake the blues genre in his own image for the 1980s and beyond. To listen to his recordings and watch the footage of his live concerts is to experience the pure enjoyment and awe and wonder that musical genius can convey.
And as always with great musical talent, it doesn't require a big band and fancy orchestration, or special recording tricks and engineering wizardry. All it takes is one talented man with a guitar.