Stevie Ray Vaughan is a legend of the guitar game. Few could muster up the kind of magic that Vaughan could with a six-string. His masterful ability is the deciphering factor in why he had David Bowie and Eric Clapton queueing up to work with him. If you ever wondered why Bowie thought so highly of him, just listen to this isolated version of ‘Let’s Dance’.
Vaughan, an influential character that he didn’t become the biggest star on the planet during his time on earth, would have his most tremendous commercial success following his death. With it, Vaughan would go on to inspire a whole new generation of guitarists. A generation who never quite managed to replicate his enigmatic, unique blues style but, just by listening to his material, countless recognisable names were given the urge to pick up a guitar.
The collaboration with Bowie helped send Vaughan into the stratosphere. Although his band, Double Trouble, had put on a clinic the previous year in 1982 at Montreux Jazz Festival, they were still somewhat of a hidden secret. Following ‘Let’s Dance’, Vaughan’s band were signed to a major label, and suddenly he was seen as the messiah.
“To tell you the truth, I was not very familiar with David’s music when he asked me to play on the sessions,” Vaughan himself said before his death in the May 1983 issue of Musician. “David and I talked for hours and hours about our (Double Trouble’s) music, about funky Texas blues and its roots – I was amazed at how interested he was. At Montreux, he said something about being in touch and then tracked me down in California, months and months later.”
Bowie was taken aback by the sheer talent that Vaughan sprayed into that session, and without his touch, ‘Let’s Dance’ wouldn’t have half the majestic charm that it does. His fingertips are just as crucial to the song’s success as Bowie’s enigmatic vocal, and when the two juggernauts work together, they create an unquestionable tour de force.
“It was just a trip to hear my kid brother on a number one record,” Jimmie Vaughan proudly reflected to Billboard in 2018 about ‘Let’s Dance’. “That song just took over everything; a total smash. And there was Stevie playing lead guitar on it. Stevie called me to tell me he had met up with David Bowie and Nile Rodgers in New York, and I think they recorded him pretty quickly.
“It was only one day or something for the guitar; he just overdubbed himself onto the tracks. But he only needed one or two takes; he just went in there all fired up and did his thing.”
If this is the sorcery level that the two of them managed to whip up in a day, this kind of result would be unfathomable if it was anybody else but the two greats in question.
Vaughan and Bowie’s talents fit together like a glove, and the only negative is that this is the only time that their skills combined. Could you imagine how mind-blowing a full collaborative record between them would have been? Sadly, we’ll have to settle for this heavenly isolated version featuring just their parts.