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The first riff Stevie Ray Vaughan learnt

Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of the most highly regarded figures in guitar-playing. Heavily romanticised, the legacy of the blues was cast in stone when his life was cut short in 1990 following a tragic helicopter accident that killed him and four others. The shock caused by his death made many fans return to his work, becoming blown away by his unmistakable form of modern blues in the process.

Interestingly, Vaughan only enjoyed the success he deserved for seven years before his death, but it is what he did in that short period that has etched his name into the guitarist’s hall of fame. Occupying the same space as legends such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, Vaughan is a favourite of musos everywhere, and it’s not hard to see why. 

His form of hardcore blues paid respect to the likes of Muddy Waters and B.B. King whilst also putting a swaggering contemporary spin on the genre, helping to introduce new listeners to the form that many thought obsolete. With albums such as 1983’s Texas Flood and 1984’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Vaughan positioned himself as an innovator, and they have stood the test of time as cornerstones in modern blues. 

Born in Dallas in 1954, Vaughan dropped out of high school in 1972 and quickly rose to prominence on the local circuit after playing a series of shows in quick succession. To everyone in attendance, his skill was clear, and it was only a matter of time before Vaughan swapped the humble origins of his local spot for the shining lights of the major leagues.

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Vaughan would meet Chris Layton in the late ’70s, and together, they formed the band Double Trouble in 1978. They became The Lone Star state’s most prominent rock outfit, and by the turn of the decade, the duo had played at some of the area’s most iconic venues such as Rockefeller’s in Houston and were now looking further afield. Bassist Tommy Shannon joined in 1980, and the band’s classic lineup was crystallised. The ’80s was to be theirs. 

In what is undoubtedly the most significant moment in his career, when the band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, the great David Bowie was in attendance, and he was blown away by Vaughan’s aptitude. As a result, Bowie invited the Texan guitar hero to his studio at a time he was working on his latest record, the soon-to-be iconic Let’s Dance. This invitation resulted in Vaughan laying down the guitar tracks for the album, featuring on timeless cuts such as the title track and ‘China Girl’.

However, his appearance on Let’s Dance is just one extraordinary moment in what was a stellar career, and we shouldn’t forget that Stevie Ray Vaughan was much more than simply a sideman in the great odyssey that was David Bowie’s career. 

Given that he is such a hero of the six-string, fans have long wanted to understand his playing a little bit better, as his style is one of the most instantly recognisable out there. Well, luckily for us, an interview he gave during the ’80s has recently resurfaced, and in it, he reveals the first riff he ever learnt, and unsurprisingly, it’s an old blues standard, which we can hear throughout his back catalogue. Vaughan told the interviewer: “The first thing I ever learned as a blues thing was (plays riff)… I’m still partial to that kind of stuff dude.”

Watch Stevie Ray Vaughan play the first riff he ever learnt below.

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