The late 80’s was an exciting time period for me. I was learning what it was like to enter the “Adult Phase” of my life as I was sort of on my own while attending college. Of course, at that time, I didn’t realize how sheltered I really was, though, because I wasn’t paying, rent, utilities, or any of the other weights “real life” offers as an anchor to living. However, it wasn’t all “Butterflies and Zebras,” to quote a Jimi Hendrix tune. Nah, things were a bit tough.
Part of my angst was caused by the fact that I couldn’t play sports anymore. We all reach that time in life where we can’t do things like before. I was a washed-up athlete at 19, simply because I wasn’t good enough to play at the next level. The thing is, though, facts don’t stop the heart from yearning to play, and that yearning was a real force in my life. In my mind, I knew I couldn’t play sports, and it was best to move on to something else. Finding that next thing was a little tougher than expected, so I struggled. I struggled making friends in a state I always wanted live in — my dad was in the military, so we traveled from place to place like all military families. I struggled to make decent grades, which is all-important in school. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that I didn’t completely spiral out of control.
I found my “next thing” in the form of a guitar. I was a music lover from an early age. I listened to all of my dad’s eight track tapes, went to the boom-box phase, and then the Sony Walkman, etc. Since I was so involved in sports, I never really thought to ask my parents for a guitar, even though I secretly loved the guitar and always wanted to learn to play one.
At the “old age” of 19, I was introduced to a cheap classical guitar for 85 dollars, affordable semester lessons from a world-class guitar player, who just happened to be one of the finest people living on this earth. (For those of you who are interested, his name is Marvin McCombs.)
What started out as just wanting to learn a few songs on the guitar, blossomed into a journey to become the best guitar player possible. It wasn’t good enough to just learn basic songs, no, I wanted to learn everything: rock, blues, jazz, and classical music. My talent was limited, but my heart was in the right place. It was through those guitar lessons that I learned of blues and its 12 bar form. The strange thing is that I never had heard authentic blues. I heard the imitations – I heard Zeppelin’s version, I heard other rock bands kind of play the blues, but I never heard the real thing. Of course, people could make the argument that I didn’t look hard enough. That’s true, but I really didn’t know where to start.
Enter Stevie Ray Vaughan
One night Pride and Joy played on the radio, and I was hooked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was so cool – the guitar was out and in front the whole song. The band provided the bedrock for a different type of rhythm playing interspersed with some tasteful fills. And, the solo, wow, the solo was incredible. Any guitar lick that I could think of that would fit that song, Stevie Ray played – he left nothing off the table. It went to all the right places as they say in music. Unfortunately, I was poor at the time, so I couldn’t just buy all the albums Stevie Ray and Double Trouble made. However, I was fortunate in that one of my friends at the time let me borrow In Step, and I listened to that tape over and over while reading Interview with the Vampire. You guessed it, I borrowed the book as well.
The next semester at school my friend and I decided that we were going to finally buy Stevie Ray’s music. He bought Couldn’t Stand the Weather, and I bought Texas Flood. We listened to those two cd’s over and over. We were like little kids in a candy store, only our candy was blues music. We kept saying over and over, “This is the real thing. How is he playing that?” We were Steve Ray Evangelists – we wanted everyone to experience this music. We even took those cd’s down to the weight room to listen to, and it didn’t take long for people to grow tired of us, so I am sure they were debating whether or not to throw us out to get rid of that music. (People think today’s music is bad, you should have listened to stuff most people listened to back then.)
The more I read about Stevie Ray and his band, the more I liked. Stevie Ray had recently cleaned up his life, giving drug use the slip, and he was on fire for life. He also took the opportunity to give us late-comers to the blues party the direction to find the source of the blues. It’s because of Stevie that I learned of Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Guitar Slim, Lightening Hopkins, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and the list goes on and on.
I found my outlet to replace sports via the guitar and the music of my favorite musician, Stevie Ray Vaughan. All was well until…
August 27, 1990
Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash.
Disbelief. Shock. Devastation. It was horrible, and I was just a fan. I can’t begin to think what Stevie Ray’s death felt for people who really knew him.
The years rolled by, and the loss got worse. Sure, there were other recordings of Stevie and his band released as his brother combed through old recording sessions to find music that was worthy of releasing. While I was thankful for any “new” recordings, it wasn’t the same as following a career of a living artist. The bitterness invaded my blood stream like alcohol from the consumption of beer, and like alcohol, it was poison that made life depressing. My oasis of life, playing the guitar, just didn’t yield the same satisfaction. My friends tried to help me find other people who could play the guitar well, but I wasn’t ready to move on. Like a person getting over an old flame, such was my devotion to my favorite artist. The stripped-down version of a band with a guitar player playing a ton of notes died for me the day the helicopter carrying Stevie Ray crashed. I am sure my friends and family were tired of my fanaticism. I am sorry, guys – I wasn’t very fun to be around back then.
Stevie Ray was eligible for the Hall of Fame years ago and didn’t make the list. I wasn’t devastated, but I felt that he would never get in as his death wasn’t so far removed at that time, so I was a little disappointed. Music has since shifted from instruments to electronic sounds. We can debate whether or not this is a good thing at a later time, but the point is that for a musician who played a niche style of music on an instrument that many people find obnoxious, the odds seemed insurmountable to ever make it in the Hall of Fame. I was completely surprised when he made it in along with his band Double Trouble in 2015. Here’s the kicker, though, after making the Hall, I am not sure how I feel about the election.
Does getting elected into the Hall of Fame change anything? Of course, it doesn’t. He and his band will never make more music, which is more important to me as a fan, and Halls of Fame are kind of dicey, anyway. There’s no real standard criteria for any of the Halls. Baseball’s Hall makes it almost impossible to get in. The Basketball Hall accepts almost anyone. Who knows what they are doing in football? Joe Namath got in for basically winning one Super Bowl. His stats look pretty bad, even when the time period is adjusted for the lack of passing. Am I supposed to feel better that my favorite musician and his band got voted into a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include artists that absolutely should be included? What criteria are they using to vote in acts?
Despite my scorn of the voting system of Halls in general, I am happy for Stevie Ray’s family, band mates, and other fans of his and Blues music in general. It is nice to know that other people recognized the work. But… There should have been other songs, more concerts, more “Wow!” moments, more interviews, more everything Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Instead, we are left with an induction to a Hall that isn’t exactly the best representation of an already sketchy institution.