Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 10 Most Historic Performances
What Stevie Ray Vaughan’s career lacked in length, it made up for in truly amazing moments. From his time as an up-and-coming blues artist marking time in clubs and juke joints around Texas to his years as a guitar god playing on some of the biggest stages in the world, Vaughan made every minute spent with an instrument in his hands and microphone in front of his lips a special one. But which ones were best? Here are our choices for Stevie Ray Vaughan's 10 Most Historic Performances.
Long before he was an international guitar icon, Vaughan was just another unknown regular of the Texas blues-rock circuit, jamming multiple nights a week on a variety of stages across the Lone Star State. This gig at Stubb’s BBQ in Lubbock, Texas provides a critical glimpse of the guitarist as a still-burgeoning young talent cutting his teeth and trying to make a name for himself.
This was the gig that started it all. Though he didn’t quite get the reception he might have hoped for from the Swiss crowd – a few members of the audience actually booed him and his band – Vaughan diligently ran through many of the tracks that would make up his debut album Texas Flood. One person who recognized his talents in Montreux was Jackson Browne; he offered use of his recording studio after jamming with Stevie Ray and company the night following this show.
By 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s star was on the rise and this performance at the El Mocambo club in Toronto, Canada captures that moment perfectly. This was actually the second gig played in Toronto; Stevie Ray performed at the CNE Bandshell four days earlier with Steppenwolf as the opening act. The intensity on stage for the July 20 performance is palpable, especially for the dual Jimi Hendrix covers of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and “Third Stone From the Sun.”
Throughout his life, Vaughan made it a priority to pay homage to his heroes, and few loomed as large in his mind as the fabled bluesman Albert King. King himself wasn’t inclined to take part in the show and eventual broadcast until he discovered that Vaughan was the same “Little Stevie” who had sat in with him in years past. Minus a performance of “Pride and Joy,” the set is a complete run through of Albert King’s many hits, just as we’re sure Vaughan wanted.
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Among New York City’s many illustrious stages – from Radio City Music Hall to Madison Square Garden, from the Apollo to the Beacon – Carnegie Hall remains the glittering gem. And Vaughan rose to the occasion, a day after his 30th birthday. This show featured a number of guests, including brother Jimmie Vaughan, and was highlighted by a variety of covers of songs by Guitar Slim and Albert Collins. Not a bad way to bring in a new year.
Three years after he and his band were nearly booed off the stage, Stevie Ray Vaughan returned for his redemption. This time around, the crowd was much enthusiastic as he weaved songs in from his latest record Couldn’t Stand the Weather amongst the old standbys.
Vaughan long credited rock pioneer Lonnie Mack and his song “Wham” for helping spur him to create his own signature sound. He was finally able to pay the guitarist the appropriate homage on this stop in Atlanta on his Live Alive tour. The evening was also memorable, since Vaughan said it was the first he'd ever performed completely sober.
Recorded for a television special, Vaughan turned this gig on a Louisiana riverboat into a family affair by bringing out Jimmie to play. (His brother's band the Fabulous Thunderbirds opened up, alongside New Orleans’ own Dr. John.) Two nights later, Vaughan took his act to the Federal Corrections Institution in Big Springs, Texas.
As any performer will tell you, no show is sweeter than one back in your hometown – especially after a few long hard months grinding it out on the road. By 1989, Stevie Ray Vaughan was no stranger to the ACL stage, having performed there six years earlier. But it was this show, a little less than a year before his death, that most people remember. His take on Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone” is spectacular.
Even if this hadn't been Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final concert, it still would have been a shoo-in to make this list. Performing alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and his brother Jimmie at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin, Stevie Ray pulled out all the stops. It was a fitting coda to the life of a man who lived to perform.