Guitar World celebrates the 30 greatest recordings of Stevie Ray Vaughan—from “Texas Flood” to “Riviera Paradise”…from “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” to “The Sky Is Crying.”
For someone who spent a mere seven and a half years as a heavy player on the world stage, Texas guitar-slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan left behind a wealth of recorded material—and one hell of a legacy.
In that blink of an eye between his incongruous appearance on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in 1983 and his death in a freak helicopter crash in 1990, Vaughan unleashed four indispensable studio albums that hijacked the trajectory of modern blues guitar.
Without the aid of light shows, edgy haircuts and goofy rock-star posturing, he introduced the MTV generation to passion-fueled guitar music—not to mention the work and importance of Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf.
He even had time to star in his own mini rock-star drama of drug and alcohol addiction, breakdown, recovery and triumphant return.
In honor of what would have been Vaughan’s 60th birthday (It’s about as difficult to picture SRV at 60 as it is to picture Hendrix at 72), Guitar World looks back at what we consider his 30 greatest guitar moments. Our list digs deep into his six-string artistry, while taking historical importance and other factors into account.
In terms of material, we’ve considered everything, including his official studio work and numerous posthumous studio and live releases—basically everything that will be included on Legacy Recordings’ recently released 13-disc box set, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: The Complete Epic Album Collection.
We also considered his DVDs and videos available on YouTube—pretty much everything and anything he recorded with a Fender Strat, a guitar that, as reported elsewhere in this issue, also happens to be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. — Damian Fanelli
30. “Texas Flood” (Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985, 2001)
Sure, there are scores of stellar live versions of “Texas Flood” online, but there’s simply something magical about this raw performance from July 17, 1982, at the Montreux Jazz and International Music Festival.
The extended, dynamics-filled rollercoaster ride finds SRV reaching into his bag of King-meets-Hendrix licks—not to mention behind his back, where his Strat rested for the final third of the song. SRV floored everyone that night, except for a handful of blues purists who can be heard (and seen in the video) booing loud and clear.
“We weren’t sure how we’d be accepted,” Vaughan told Guitar World in 1983. But he knew it went well when David Bowie appeared backstage and an important alliance was born.
29. Love Struck Baby (Live at the El Mocambo, 1991)
“Love Struck Baby,” the opening track on Texas Flood, is an SRV original, a straightforward rocker in the style of rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry.
This explosive live version from SRV & Double Trouble’s July 20, 1983, performance at El Mocambo clearly illustrates Vaughan’s incredible touch, tone and phrasing from the very first note.
The rhythm guitar parts are built from Berry’s signature alternating root-fifth/root-sixth style, and Vaughan’s solos borrow from both Berry and T-Bone Walker, Stevie’s great influence. During his first and second solos, Vaughan leans heavily on an Adim7 voicing fretted on the top three strings that is slowly bent up one half step and vibrato-ed in the style of Walker.
At the end of his second solo, he employs an unusual A7add2 chord voicing—made popular by blues great Freddie King on his instrumental hit “Hide Away”—sliding down the fretboard from this voicing and jumping into unison bends played on the third and second strings, with the ring finger used to bend the third string and the index finger used to fret the second string.
28. Say What! (Soul to Soul, 1985)
The opening track on SRV and Double Trouble’s third album, “Say What!” is a swinging 12/8 instrumental that features intense, virtuoso guitar work drenched in echo and heavy wah-wah.
“ ‘Say What!’ had been a jam, like Hendrix's ‘Rainy Day, Dream Away,’ ” Tommy Shannon recalls. Rumor has it that, for this track, Vaughan used a wah that had formerly belonged to Jimi Hendrix.
Allegedly, the wah was acquired by brother Jimmie Vaughan in a trade with Hendrix when the two played a show together in Forth Worth, Texas, in 1969.
27. “Let's Dance” (David Bowie, Let’s Dance, 1983)
It’s crazy enough that, in the synth-happy early Eighties, newcomer Vaughan had a top-20 hit with a Strat-fueled, 12-bar-blues shuffle called “Pride and Joy.”
Even more bizarre is that, the same year, his raunchy Albert King–inspired bends graced a bona-fide mega-hit, David Bowie’s jittery “Let’s Dance,” which spent a solid three weeks at the top of the charts.
The song—and the album of the same name—is notable because it served as the world’s introduction to Vaughan’s dynamic fretwork, a fact lost on most of Bowie’s newer, younger audience.
For a heftier serving of SRV, check out the seven-plus-minute version of this track, plus “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and “China Girl.”
26. Ain’t Gone ’n’ Give Up on Love (Capitol Theater, 1985)
Cut originally for 1985’s Soul to Soul, “Ain’t Gone ’n’ Give Up on Love” is a great slow blues in A with some interesting twists and turns found in the bridge chord progression.
This smoldering version, cut on September 21, 1985, at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey, is one of the many great examples of Stevie’s pure and complete mastery of the slow blues idiom. Throughout the song, his soloing style leans heavily on his Albert King influence, blended masterfully with his incredibly precise articulation and powerfully emotional execution.
Although he performs increasingly complex improvised phrases as the solo progresses, his rhythmic sense is sharp and he retains total control throughout.
25. Superstition (Live Alive, 1986)
Stevie Wonder originally wrote this fantastic riff rocker for Jeff Beck before reclaiming it as his own and making it a Number One smash in 1972.
A decade later, SRV wrestled it back on his 1986 Live Alive and made it the monstrous guitar song it always wanted to be. The only demerit is that Stevie—the undisputed king of corny music videos—used the track as an excuse to make yet another hilariously bad promotional clip.
24. Change It (Soul to Soul)
Arguably Stevie’s best single.
He sounds like the big bad wolf threatening to blow down some girl’s door—and if that won’t do it, his snarling guitar solo will. Although the lyrics are generally positive, his vocals are menacing as all hell. Another terrible video, though.
23. Blues at Sunrise (In Session, 1999)
Stevie Ray Vaughan and his hero and mentor Albert King convened on December 6, 1983, to perform for the In Session live music television series produced by the Canadian television station CHCH-TV in Hamilton, Ontario.
Vaughan, whose debut release Texas Flood had been out for only a few months, was largely unknown to most viewers at that time. In fact, King didn’t know him by name and initially refused to perform with Vaughan—until King realized he was the same Austin, Texas, guitar prodigy that King had already played with many times before, known to him as “Little Stevie.”
The show features King’s band and consists mostly of his material, aside from a scorching version of Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.” The two guitarists “battle” back and forth beautifully, King often laughing as he is tickled pink by Vaughan’s virtuosity.
“Blues at Sunrise” is the high point of a session that many consider to contain some of the greatest playing SRV ever recorded.
22. Crossfire (In Step, 1989)
“When Stevie first heard ‘Crossfire,’ it reminded him of ‘Shotgun’ by Junior Walker,” bassist Tommy Shannon recalls of Vaughan’s only Number One hit.
Shannon, one of the song’s composers, actually wrote the butt-shaking bass line that serves as its primary riff, but according to keyboardist Reese Wynans, the track had a somewhat difficult birth.
“We put it together little by little, and it wasn’t easy,” he says. “But in the end it came out just right.”
21. “The House Is Rockin'” (In Step)
We’re suckers for a killer guitar riff, and “The House Is Rockin’,” the lead single from Vaughan’s 1989 comeback album, In Step, is built around a doozy.
Actually, the riff—a Chuck Berry–inspired E power chord shape played on the seventh fret (tuned down a half-step, of course)—is fairly basic. It’s Vaughan’s pinky gymnastics on the fifth and sixth strings that give it its own chugging, barrelhouse flavor.
“Doyle [Bramhall] wrote that part,” Vaughan told Guitar World’s Andy Aledort in 1989. “He writes these great songs.” With this track, Vaughan once again managed to bring a tasty piece of roots rock to the Top 20.
20. Tin Pan Alley (Montreux, 1985)
When Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble played the Montreux Jazz Festival for the second time on July 15, 1985 (almost three years to the day from their first appearance), Stevie joked with the adoring crowd: “First time here, we got booed… First time we got a Grammy!”
The 1985 performance included Reese Wynans on keyboard, whicih led Vaughan to dub the group Serious Trouble.
“Tin Pan Alley” is a very slow, emotive minor blues that had been in SRV’s live set for years by the time he first cut it in the studio in January 1984 for Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
This version includes legendary Texas guitarist Johnny Copeland sitting in on vocals and guitar, and Stevie’s guitar work throughout—performed on the white Charlie Wirz Strat with Dan Armstrong “lipstick tube” pickups—is absolutely astonishing.
His tone, his touch, his feel and his phrasing are just phenomenal. Electric blues guitar just does not get any better than this.
19. Come On (Part III) (Soul to Soul)
Every Stevie Ray album had to have a little Hendrix on it somewhere, and his third album, Soul to Soul, was no different.
While he stays pretty faithful to Jimi’s Electric Ladyland version of “Come On,” Vaughan outsings and outplays the original in every way. Hey, it was bound to happen.
18. “The Sky Is Crying” (Blues at Sunrise, 2000)
Although the officially released version of this Elmore James cover, from 1991’s The Sky Is Crying, features welcome embellishment courtesy of keyboardist Reese Wynans, Vaughan’s tame and somewhat predicable solo owes a bit too much to “Texas Flood.”
This three-piece version, recorded earlier (during sessions for Couldn’t Stand the Weather) and released nine years later on Blues at Sunrise, captures the band at its live-in-the-studio best.
SRV slides up and down the neck with abandon, laying into a solo so fluid and tasty that it makes you wonder why it hadn’t been released during his lifetime.
17. Telephone Song (Family Style, 1990)
Released a month before Stevie’s death, this track is just one of the many highlights from the vastly underrated 1990 Family Style album, recorded with his older brother, Jimmie.
If Stevie had a fault, it was that he was a little too earnest, but with his bro and producer Nile Rodgers onboard, he sounds like he’s loose and having a blast.
“Telephone Song” is surely the funkiest studio track of his career, and his improvised rap at the end is a hoot.
16. Look At Little Sister (Soul to Soul)
To think of “Look At Little Sister” as a somewhat inferior follow-up to “Pride and Joy” is to miss its many virtues.
Sure, it features less guitar, but Stevie’s lascivious vocals are fantastic, and the track’s superior sound and production add substantial heft to its grinding stripper chug. It’s dirty in a way that the blues should be.
You can’t help but imagine what this sweet thing looks like when SRV spies her “shakin’ like a tree” and “rollin’ like a log.”
15. “May I Have a Talk with You” (The Sky Is Crying, 1991)
This cover of a Howlin’ Wolf tune stands out as one of the rare polished-sounding studio recordings where Vaughan actually flubs a note.
The (let’s call it) tiny imperfection occurs at the 4:01 mark, when SRV is coming back for a landing after a series of bends high on the neck. But the error plays only a bit part in this particularly exciting and majestic slow-burn solo and reminds us that Vaughan was, occasionally, mortal.
14. Scuttle Buttin’ (Couldn’t Stand the Weather)
Composed as a tribute to Lonnie Mack, who is among rock’s first virtuoso lead guitarists, this 1:52 shot of pure adrenaline opens with one of Stevie’s flashiest and most imitated licks.
Featuring a series of quick—and relatively easy—open-string pull-offs, “Scuttle Buttin’ ” is the song for guitarists to learn when they want to impress skeptical parents, buddies and girlfriends.
13. Cold Shot (Rockpalast, 1984)
Originally included on SRV’s brilliant sophomore release, 1984’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather, “Cold Shot” is a swinging shuffle with a dark, heavy blues feel.
The song was written by keyboardist Mike Kindred, who was part of the Triple Threat group that preceded the formation of Double Trouble. Stevie loved “Cold Shot” and kept it in the repertoire for his entire career.
At the time of this performance, which took place on August 25, 1984, at Freilichtbühne Loreley, St. Goarshausen, Germany for the Rockpalast television broadcast, SRV and Double Trouble were still performing as a trio, and the band’s pure power at this stage of its development is simply incredible.
With his Fender Vibratone cranked to the max, Stevie rips through his first solo, relying on hybrid-picked non-adjacent double-stops played on the third and first strings.
Notes on the high E string are fingerpicked, while notes on the G string are sounded with the pick. SRV’s solid fret-hand strength allows him to execute the many bends and hammer-ons played on the G string while simultaneously fretting the high A root note on the E string at the fifth fret.
12. Tightrope (Austin City Limits, 1989)
When Stevie cut 1989’s In Step, his last studio effort with Double Trouble, he showcased more of an R&B/soul approach than ever before, evidenced by the hit tracks “Crossfire” and “Tightrope.”
“Tightrope” is a straightforward 4/4 groover with a James Brown–meets–Albert King type of feel. Shot on October 10, 1989 for Austin City Limits, Stevie’s performance is extraordinary, displaying a combination of raw power, deep emotion and technical brilliance in perfect measure.
His Fuzz Face–drenched solo is crushing in its power while also beautifully melodic and precise. The intense multistring bent vibratos at the start of his outro solo (3:42–3:46) are just the tip of the iceberg as he closes out this truly masterful performance.
11. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (Austin City Limits, 1989)
“When I go out and play [“Mary Had a Little Lamb”], I can hear people say, ‘Oh, that's Stevie's number,’ ” Buddy Guy once said.
“So I say, ‘Okay man, that's Stevie's number.’ But Stevie knows whose number it was.”
“Mary,” the first Guy composition to be recorded by Vaughan, was the perfect canvas for Vaughan and keyboardist Reese Wynans to slather with their mad skills.
Like the rest of this priceless 1989 Austin City Limits broadcast, Vaughan is simply on fire. Between the song’s funked-up sections, he delivers a series of stellar, note-perfect solos that careen and soar with the aid of some nifty whammy-bar action.
10. Testify (Texas Flood)
The idea of Stevie Ray covering a funky song by the great R&B band the Isley Brothers might seem bizarre until you consider that rhythm and blues was a big part of the Double Trouble playbook.
Besides, his choice of “Testify” makes perfect sense when you realize that the guitarist on the Isley’s original 1964 version was none other than his hero, Jimi Hendrix.
More a tip of the hat than a cover, Stevie pays respects to Hendrix’s original opening riff before ditching the rest of the song and heading into parts unknown. It’s just as well. “Testify” wasn’t very good in the first place, and Vaughan carves a much more exciting path while ripping a total of seven—count ’em, seven—electrifying solos, each more intense than the one before it.
But what really makes this one of Stevie’s very best performances is the variety of sounds he gets by using his wah pedal to subtly color his sound, as it gradually shifts from silky smooth to full-on banshee wail.
09. “Couldn't Stand the Weather” (Capitol Theatre, 1985)
Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Vaughan’s 1984 sophomore album, featured impressive guitar work and sold well, two factors that confirmed SRV and Double Trouble weren’t a mere flash in the pan.
Still, many critics and fans at the time couldn’t help but notice that the album was something of a letdown. With its combination of originals and covers and heavy reliance on the blues, the eight-song collection had a “more of the same” feel about it.
Thirty years later, however, one can’t help but notice that Couldn’t Stand the Weather is where a Texas-sized portion of Vaughan’s most essential recordings live. These include “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” “Cold Shot,” “Tin Pan Alley” and the funky title track, which—contrary to the “more of the same” criticism—finds Vaughan working hard to break out of the blues mold of Texas Flood. The song features several fine guitar parts, from its free-form intro to its funky figures to its Albert King–Jimi Hendrix stew of a solo.
One of the most inspiring performances of the song—from September 1985 at New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre—can be found on YouTube (below), courtesy of the Music Vault. It’s all there: Vaughan’s power, intensity, focus and mammoth stage presence, plus a new-for-1985 breakdown section that gave keyboardist Reese Wynans a chance to shine. This version also scores bonus points for its choreography! (P.S.: I was in the audience that night! — Damian Fanelli)
08. Riviera Paradise (In Step, 1989)
Stevie called it “The King Tone”—the bell-like, crystalline timbre of a Fender Strat played clean, warm and in the in-between (out-of-phase neck-middle and bridge-middle) pickup positions.
And he put it to extraordinary use on In Step’s “Riviera Paradise,” one of his rare but unforgettable forays into the world of Wes Montgomery–inspired jazz blues. Done in one magic take, the recording session was the stuff of legends.
“Stevie told me he had an instrumental he wanted to try, and I said that I only had nine minutes of tape left,” producer Jim Gaines recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only four minutes long.’ We dimmed the lights and the band started playing this gorgeous song, which went on to six minutes, seven minutes, seven-and-a-half… The performance was absolutely incredible, totally inspired, dripping with emotion—and here we were, about to run out of tape.
“I was jumping up and down, waving my arms, but everyone was so wrapped up in their playing that no one was paying me any mind. I finally got Chris’ attention and emphatically gave him the cut sign. He started trying to flag down Stevie, but he was hunched over his guitar with his head bent down.
Finally, he looked up, and they brought the song down just in time. It ended, and a few seconds later the tape finished and the studio was silent, except for the sound of the empty reel spinning around.”
07. Rude Mood (Texas Flood)
Along with “Testify” and “Lenny,” “Rude Mood” is another of the three instrumental tracks recorded for SRV’s debut release.
Written by Vaughan and inspired by the Lightning Hopkins song “Hopkin’s Sky Hop,” this barn-burning track serves as a tour de force display of Stevie’s mastery of a great many different guitar techniques, including fast alternate picking, complex sections devised of fingers-plus-pick hybrid-picking techniques, and seamless transitions from hard-driving rhythm playing to blazing single-note solos.
As a composition, it is perfectly constructed into distinct and individual 12-bar choruses, each of which brings the intensity of the song to a new and higher level.
Says Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, “In early ’79, [country DJ] Joe Gracey made early recordings of Double Trouble while Lou Ann [Barton], Jack Newhouse and Johnny Reno were still in the band. That was blues stuff like, 'Ti Na Nee Na Nu,’ ‘Scratch My Back’ and ‘Sugarcoated Love,’ along with an early version of ‘Rude Mood.’ Those recordings were done in the tiny basement of KOKE, a country station. Gracey recorded us on a four-channel mixer with a reel-to-reel, with everything done totally live using just four microphones.”
It’s fascinating to hear the recording of “Rude Mood” from that period, because the Texas Flood version, which is much faster, is a note-perfect recreation of it. There is virtually no improvisation whatsoever. It is almost unheard of for a blues guitar player to compose something that lengthy and complicated, and perform it note-perfectly for years and years, just as Stevie did.
He displays incredible attention to detail on this song, and this is even more obvious when you compare the two studio versions, recorded four years apart.
06. Lenny (Live at the El Mocambo)
“Lenny” is a beautiful, Hendrix-inspired ballad that Stevie wrote for his wife, Lenora.
The solo section is made up of alternating bars of Emaj13 and Amaj9. Stylistically, the song is very similar to Jimi Hendrix’s classic ballad, “Angel.” For this El Mocambo performance, Stevie chose to play a guitar he dubbed Lenny, a 1963/1964 guitar that Lenny bought for Stevie in the early Eighties.
It was stripped down to the natural wood and features a light-brown stain as well as a butterfly tortoiseshell inlay in the body. The guitar originally had a neck with a rosewood fretboard, but Stevie soon replaced it with a maple neck that was a gift from his brother, Jimmie.
In true Hendrix style, Stevie treats the arpeggiated bridge section (the B6-D6-G6-Bb6-A6 chord progression) with subtle whammy bar manipulations. His improvised lines are based primarily on E major pentatonic (E F# G# B C#), with brief use of the minor third, G, as a passing tone into the major second, F#.
Of great importance is the subtle use of hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides throughout, which serve to provide a liquid feel to his well-articulated and melodic phrases. When playing these lines, Stevie sticks with the index and ring fingers of his fret-hand. Of note is the smooth and effortless way he moves from playing straight 16th notes to playing lines articulated in 16th-note triplets.
05. “Leave My Girl Alone” (Austin City Limits, 1989; released on The Real Deal: Greatest Hits 2, 1999)
One of the most frustrating things about Vaughan’s tragic death in August 1990 was the fact that, in the last two years of his life, his playing had somehow improved.
Vaughan’s (and the rest of the band’s) coke-induced distractions were snuffed out, and his portal—that magical gateway that connected the guitarist to his unique source of inspiration, divine or otherwise—was wide open.
A perfect example is this live 1989 version of Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone,” recorded on the Austin City Limits TV show. Eric Clapton has mentioned how Jeff Beck “pulls” notes from his guitar; in this case, Vaughan is clearly “pushing” the notes out of his Strat, all in relentless, lightning-fast bursts that make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your life.
His ominous groans between phrases underscore the passion and excitement he felt during every performance, especially when he was able to experience his surroundings as a clean and sober guitar god.
04. Little Wing (Live at the El Mocambo, 1991)
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s electrifying performance of Jimi Hendrix’s timeless ballad during his July 20, 1983, performance at the El Mocambo Club in Toronto, Canada, is one of the best live versions he ever performed, beautifully filmed and captured at what was the very beginning of his rapid ascent to stardom. Stevie always played the song as an instrumental.
Six months after this performance, he would record an instrumental version of “Little Wing” in the Power Station studio in NYC while working on his sophomore release, Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
Without mimicking any of Jimi Hendrix’s licks, Stevie expresses his own distinct musicality—as well as complete and utter mastery of the guitar—while beautifully and faithfully emulating Jimi’s style. He relies on specific elements, such as strong and wide vibratos, razor-sharp string bending and expressive legato techniques, delivered with a swinging 16th-note triplet feel.
Throughout, Stevie focuses his formidable technique on emotionally expressive phrases, as each new improvised melody balances perfectly against the last.
Jimi’s original studio take may have been a mere 2:24 in length, but SRV uses “Little Wing” as a vehicle for extended improvisation, as this stellar version stretches out to just over seven minutes long. A huge plus for all guitarists is that the DVD of this concert, Live at the El Mocambo, stays focused on his hands virtually the entire time, allowing for close scrutiny of just about every blazing lick, bend and vibrato that he performs.
03. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) (Couldn’t Stand the Weather, 1984)
It’s ballsy when any guitarist attempts to cover a Jimi Hendrix song, let alone a masterpiece like “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” And even though SRV was no ordinary guitarist, he labored long and hard over the decision to include his version of the tune on his second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
“I love Hendrix’s music,” Vaughan told Guitar World in 1985, “and I just feel it’s important for people to hear him. I know if I take care of his music that it will take care of me. I treat it with respect—not as a burden. See, I still listen to Hendrix all the time, and I doubt I’ll ever quit.”
In many ways Stevie was a perfect envoy for Jimi, as witnessed by his electrifying studio take on “Voodoo.” His uncanny ability to smooth out some of Hendrix’s weirder edges without losing any of the music’s power or excitement allowed him to credibly deliver Jimi’s avant-garde blues to a whole new generation of guitar fanatics.
02. “Pride and Joy” (Texas Flood)
Imagine what radio listeners in 1983 thought when they first heard the fat, droning Eb notes that kick off Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.”
After their steady diet of Irene Cara, Flock of Seagulls and Human League, did they even know it was a guitar? Regardless, the notes—which quickly morphed into a rollicking Texas shuffle—underscored the return of heart-felt guitar music as a viable artistic force.
Part of what makes “Pride and Joy” stand out from, well, pretty much everything else is its reliance on heavy-gauge open strings, including the high E (.13, tuned to Eb), B (.15, tuned to Bb) and low E (.58, tuned to Eb). Throw in Vaughan’s trademark “Number One” Strat, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer, a Roland Dimension D Chorus and a Dumble amp (which belonged to Jackson Browne), and you’ve got something truly unique.
“Stevie wrote ‘Pride and Joy’ for this new girlfriend he had when he was inspired by their relationship,” Layton said. “Then they had a fight and he turned around and wrote ‘I’m Cryin’,’ which is really the same song, just the flip side, lyrically.”
01. “Texas Flood” (Texas Flood, 1983)
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble—bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton—didn’t walk into Jackson Browne’s Down Town Studio in Los Angeles in late 1982 with highfalutin plans about recording their monster debut album.
In fact, their sites were set much lower. “We were just making a tape,” Layton said. “We hoped maybe we were making a demo that would actually be listened to by a real record company.” Browne had offered them 72 hours of free time, and the group recorded 10 songs over its last two days at the studio.
The last tune to be tracked was “Texas Flood,” an obscure slow-blues tune recorded in 1958 by Texas bluesman Larry Davis (with Fenton Robinson on guitar) that had been a staple of Vaughan’s live shows for years. Vaughan’s version, which borrowed heavily from Davis’ arrangement and singing style, was recorded in a single take—live—just as the clock ran out. According to Nick Palaski and Bill Crawford’s Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire, there were only two overdubs, both covering mistakes made when Vaughan broke strings.
Listening to Vaughan’s ferocious Albert King–on-steroids two-string bends, it’s a miracle another three or four E and/or B strings didn’t self-destruct every few bars.
The stark, five-and-a-half-minute recording is a composite of everything that made Vaughan great, from the note choices to the intensity to his ability to learn from, yet build upon, the groundwork laid by his influences.