July 24, 2021

The accident that took a young Stevie Ray Vaughan

The decade of the ’90s began. MC Hammer with “U can’t touch this” dominated the radio programming of the world. With this, music with programmed drums was becoming more popular, largely amassed in the ’80s.

And what about those who played “real instruments”? The Beatles and Led Zeppelin suffered significant losses in their formations, Queen would soon experience something similar with Freddie Mercury. Someone who cared about guitars, from the oldest school, for calling it that in some way? Gary Moore was on one side. And on the other, Stevie Ray Vaughan.


The American guitarist (born October 3, 1954), who developed much of his career with the band Double Trouble, at that time already had four published studio albums. In addition, he accumulated more than 800 live performances, dazzling them with his talent on the Fender Stratocaster “Number One”, his lead guitar.

1990 was unfolding normal for Stevie Ray Vaughan and company. Already in the middle of the year they were approaching 50 live shows, considering that they played between 86 and 153 times per year, since 1983 (according to the specialized portal Setlist.fm). In fact, in parallel he prepared with his brother Jimmie Family Style, their first album together. In order to have promotional material, they recorded an interview in July. There they mentioned BB King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Albert King as their guitar heroes.


After a small break in August, they resumed the presentations: first one in Wisconsin and then two in Michigan, on the 24th, 25th and 26th of that month. The days in this last state kept something particular: SRV and Double Trouble were chosen to open the shows of Eric Clapton in an amphitheater called Alpine Valley. Along with them Robert Cray and his band would also be on stage.

The biography Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan (Alan Paul and Andy Delort) reviews the career of the Dallas-born guitarist and dedicates a section to those shows. “The first night in Alpine Valley I was there watching the show and it was great to see them all. I really think Stevie was maybe the best guitarist ever and he proved it that night. He was more magical than ever,” recalls Bonnie Raitt, friend. by Vaughan, in the book.

Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton y Stevie Ray Vaughan.

On August 25 SRV played twelve songs, reviewing covers of Stevie Wonder and Buddy Guy, closing with “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix. Clapton, for his part, had a repertoire of fifteen songs, concluding the performance with Jeff Healey on stage.

Those days seemed golden to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had been clean for several years, having been on the brink of death from excessive drug and alcohol use in the mid-1980s. For this reason, the next day’s show had to maintain the high level that it had been demonstrating. Or get over it. So it was.

His brother Jimmie remembers in Texas Flood that “in the second show, Stevie was unreal. He was on another plane and we all noticed it. It was one of those concerts where you can’t believe what you’re hearing from an artist. Everyone was happy and cheering, taking him to another level as well. “.

That show had a song list similar to the one the day before, with slight changes. Eric Clapton, meanwhile, had more to show. After playing 15 songs, a repertoire that included material from Cream, Clapton gave way to number 16 in a special way: “I present myself to really join the best guitarists in the world: Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan “. The quartet of musicians plus Eric Clapton’s band closed with “Sweet Home Chicago”. Curious choice, because that song would end up becoming, unfortunately, a kind of premonition in bad taste.

More about Stevie Ray Vaughan

“I got up front to witness the jam and it was wonderful. Stevie’s performance was magnificent through the air. He was in his element (air), playing as well as I had never heard him,” recalls Reese Wynans, keyboardist for Double Trouble.


After those memorable shows, the musicians, staff, technicians and friends who accompanied them had to leave precisely for Chicago. Stevie Ray Vaughan previously suggested to his manager, Alex Hodges, consider the option of returning on the ground. Finally, they did it via helicopter.

Connie Vaughan, Jimmie’s wife, remembers that the fog began to appear after the concerts. “I went up to the pilots and said ‘this looks really bad’, and three of them said ‘Honey, don’t worry. We were in Vietnam; we can get you out of everything.’ But one pilot was standing to the side with his arms crossed. and he didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem very happy, and he wasn’t talking to the other pilots, “he said in Texas Flood.

That reluctant pilot was Jeffrey Brown. His mission was to airlift Stevie Ray Vaughan and members of Clapton’s team: Bobby Brooks, Nigel Browne and Colin Smythe in a Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter. Despite the adverse outlook, Brown took off around 12:50 a.m. on August 27. With luck, he managed to travel a kilometer with the passengers, when he crashed in the vicinity of a ski resort. They all died at the scene.

Four days after the tragedy, the musician’s remains were cremated. Stevie Wonder was present at the ceremony, where he sang “The Lord’s Prayer”, a song that he himself performed years later at Aretha Franklin’s funeral.

The second night in Michigan he had a very special conversation between SRV and Chris Layton, drummer for Double Trouble. As the latter recalls, the guitarist enthusiastically told him about the recordings he was making with his brother. And although the product of the recording sessions had not yet officially come out, Stevie was already conceptualizing in his mind what a next album would take. Trumpets and string ensembles were part of his notion, broadening the search in the sound that was dragging.

Finally, the study work of the Vaughan brothers was released on September 25, 1990 under the name of Family Style.

Just over a year after the accident occurred, precisely in October 1991, Eric Clapton was interviewed by Rolling Stone. There he delved into what happened with whom he shared the stage in Michigan. “The worst thing for me was that Stevie Ray had been sober for three years and was at his peak. When he played that night, he had us all standing with their mouths open. Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy were all staring in amazement. There was no no one better than him on this planet. Really amazing, “Clapton recalled.

“The death of my son and the death of Stevie Ray taught me that life is very fragile and that if they give you another 24 hours it is a blessing. That is the best way to see it”, closed the interpreter of “Tears in heaven” .