For the past two weeks my car's CD player has been virtually untouched. Not unplayed, mind you, but untouched. On an endless repeating loop, Stevie Ray Vaughn's 'Texas Flood' CD has spun, and I simply haven't found the motivation to listen to anything else. I almost shudder to think how much longer it will remain there, because (and this is no exaggeration) it's still getting better each time I listen to it--and I bought it almost two years ago.
I still remember the day I bought it--Lyon, France of all places, if you can believe it. In my rush to catch the plane I had left almost my entire CD collection at home, so I picked up Texas Flood at a French CD store. I had no idea how this one CD would lead to the complete re-shaping of what music was and what it meant to me, and believe me--the irony of spending my whole life in Austin, Texas, then traveling to France to truly discover the brilliance of Stevie Ray Vaughn did not escape me.
I honestly didn't think too highly of it at first. At the time my entire music collection was dominated by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Weezer, Collective Soul... you get the picture. Almost as far removed from the blues as you could imagine. I don't think I even knew what blues was. But the more I listened to it, along with the other SRV's CD's I bought in the coming weeks, I began to understand why Stevie Ray is still considered by many to be the greatest blues guitarist who ever lived. I've seen my share of great guitarists--Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Jonny Lang, and Stevie's brother Jimmie within the last year--but I still have yet to hear anyone who comes close to the combination of virtuosity and sheer passion that Stevie had every time he picked up the guitar.
Stevie could do things musically that seemed almost impossible. You could almost swear it was some kind of studio editing-trickery, the way he could seemingly layer multiple textures upon each other that simply must have taken more than two hands to perform. He would play his own counter-leads, and sometimes seemed to play rhythm to his own lead. It seemed there was truly no limit to his talent, and what kinds of things he could do with the guitar. And then you could listen to his live recordings, and there were those same effects, with Stevie undeniably playing them all by himself--no trickery involved.
If anything, Stevie's live recordings were even more stunning. Listen to his rendition of 'Tightrope' on Austin City Limits (also available on his 'Live From Austin, TX' CD/DVD) for the most searing display of guitar virtuosity you may ever see. Or listen to his live collaboration with the legendary Albert King for an almost transcendental experience on tracks like 'Pride and Joy' and 'Overall Junction'. In many ways it is only through hearing his live performances that one can truly appreciate his music, since his studio recordings were more restrained, at times even subdued by comparison. I can only imagine what would have happened had his producers just let him go all-out without trying to restrain his unparalleled talent. Lots of blown studio equipment, probably ;-).
In the years since I've "discovered" Stevie Ray Vaughn, I've bought almost every SRV CD ever released. It's amazing to watch how his style progressed and evolved over the few years that he actually recorded, and it's fascinating to imagine the heights he could have reached had not met his tragic and premature end. Each of his CD's has found a cherished place in my collection, with the ironic exception of two--his two 'Greatest Hits' CD's, both of which were sad disappointments of what they could have been. Even calling them "Greatest Hits" CD's is a complete misnomer, since neither is any more than a collection of SRV songs that the producers decided to include. When none of my top five SRV songs are on either CD, and when they actually include unreleased tracks (if they were unreleased, how did they become "hits"?), you really have to wonder what they were thinking. They stand up well on their own, but I don't consider either one a good indicator of what SRV is all about. If you're looking to get your first SRV album, I would definitely go with his live recordings or Texas Flood instead.
When I first bought Texas Flood, I was honestly just expecting something to tide me over until I could be reunited with the rest of my CD collection. Never did I imagine the kind of effect it would eventually have. My CD rack used to look like some kind of Columbia House catalog--mostly just trendy 'alterna-rock' bands and whatever was getting radio play at the time. Now when I look at it I see Eric Clapton, BB King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, and of course, Stevie Ray Vaughn. And you know... now that I think about it, I don't think I've listened to my Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Weezer, or Collective Soul CD's a single time since. Anybody want to buy them from me?
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