Blues News

Breaking Down SRV’s Playing

We talk a lot about Stevie Ray Vaughan here and with merited purpose; the guy was a straight up genius and prodigy on the electric guitar and had a vibrant and unique style that has yet to be replicated since. Of course, he took elements of his playing from Hendrix and techniques from Albert and B.B. King, but the leader of Texas blues had a raw intensity and tone all his own. Sadly, we lost SRV in a tragic helicopter crash on August 27, 1990 when he was just thirty-five years old.

After a multi-day performance at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in Wisconsin, Eric Clapton offered a helicopter to Stevie and members of Clapton’s tour crew, so they could get home earlier. Due to fog and intense weather, the pilot had a hard time navigating and crashed into a ski slope, killing everyone on board. The accident and announcement of Vaughan’s death “triggered an outpouring of grief and shock around the world.” Everyone from Stevie Wonder and Buddy Guy to Nile Rodgers and Eric Clapton attended his funeral to say farewell to the blues giant. SRV’s passing had a major impact on music and fans and musicians continue to honor him 28 years later.

In honor of his memory and legacy, I wanted to break down this video of SRV playing Jimi Hendrix’s iconic jamming tune “Voodoo Child” live in Texas. This tune has been covered hundreds if not thousands of times by everyone under the sun. So why is Stevie’s one of the most revered ones, with this particular video gaining over 6 million views on YouTube?

First of all, as I just heard Jeff Beck say live the other night “no one will ever be Jimi,” and he’s right. But, SRV admired Hendrix so much and was able to channel elements of his playing into his own. From that opening wah-drenched open string raking, you know what’s coming. Then he gets into the main riff: a dirty, unpolished straight rock riff that drives straight to the core. With the drums surging forward and bassist laying it down, SRV gets to work with his distinct soulful lyrics, sprinkling complex-sounding riffs simultaneously. Then, Stevie shows you how to play a proper blues-rock solo, adding Hendrix-esque wah-induced high string bends, B.B. King inspired single-note vibratos, capitalized with his trademark flare.

Not only was he able to set fire to his guitar (figuratively, unlike Jimi) but he had a certain fluidity and smooth style with every note he played, something that is hardly seen with any guitar player. SRV continues to inspire future generations of players and is a prime example of an exceptional musician.

R.I.P Stevie!


Patrick Ortiz 

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