Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1990

When Stevie Ray Vaughan fell out of the sky early Monday morning, he'd been sober for more than two years--not the rock and roll suicide you might once have figured him for, just another sinner in the hands of an angry God. Vaughan was coptering back to his Chicago hotel after completing a two-night amphitheatre gig at a ski resort in southern Wisconsin with Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, two of whose crew members also died in the crash. Even among musicians, who cope with more displacement than most of us, substance abuse can be blamed on the abuser. But getting from one place to the next is a peril of the calling. Like Otis Redding and Ronnie Van Zant and all too many others, Vaughan was a tragic victim of his own fame.

Having led blues/r&b combos since his teens and worked with the likes of Dallas neighbor Johnny Copeland before anybody outside the blues world ever heard of him, Vaughan moved toward the mainstream with a power trio in the early '80s and only got better. Like such blues-drenched rock guitarists as Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, and Jimi Hendrix, whom he was good enough to adore without embarrassing himself, Vaughan unloosed the notes in a river of sound mighty enough to knock down any wall a producer could construct, which is why hands-off talent scout John Hammond was perfect for him. Vaughan released five records with his band, Double Trouble, and wasn't too headstrong to play the sideman--an album with his older brother Jimmie, late of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, is due in the fall. He was 35 when he died, but like Redding and Van Zant, he always sounded older than his years. We can only hope that someone else will prove so prodigiously that the guitar-god verities retain life in the right hands and that straightening up and flying right need not dim a rocker's fire.

Village Voice, 1990