September 23, 2004

Test Spin: Stevie Ray Vauhan

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Never in musical history has one man made so much of the one, four, and five chords of a typical blues blueprint. To some, they might only be tonic, dominant, and subdominant, but to Stevie Ray Vaughan, they mean love, agony, and life. It’s been said the legendary guitarist played every show like it was his last — this sentiment is clearly evident in the newly-released Live at Montreux, a catalogue of two shows at the legendary jazz festival in 1983 and 1985. Vaughan plays with such fire, sings with such overwhelming vocal intensity, and improvises with such uncanny brilliance that it seems like his success was won only with the greatest of sacrifices. The setlist includes numerous classics, such as “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood,” with a versatile combination of organization, showmanship, and musical ability. His band, Double Trouble, is clearly on the same wavelength — Vaughan and his bassist always match themes. In one instance, in order to highlight a certain melody, the two match the vocal composition with their instruments, only to return to either a standard walking bass. Sometimes, the two will counterpoint each other with an emphasis on bare-bones blues. Drummer Chris Layton is with them the whole time, filling in with more melodic beats when needed and stepping back when Stevie Ray begins to solo. Keyboardist Reese Wynans is an excellent addition, bringing a classic B3 sound to the group. And when Vaughan is improvising, guitar behind back, wailing out his classic lamentations, all you can do is sit back and let your jaw drop to the floor.

Archived article by Elliot Carter
Red Letter Daze Contributor