Stevie Ray Vaughan is quite rightly regarded as one of the finest guitarists of all time, a contributing factor as to why he had the likes of David Bowie and Eric Clapton queueing up to work with him. His peers and contemporaries revered him alongside the best of them, a truly incredible talent that had his life snatched away in a cruel tragic accident when he was just 35. However, what Vaughan achieved in his short but fruitful career will remain in the history books forever. The reason that the guitarist became one of the best in the business can be traced back to his immaculate taste, one which helped to shape the artist he would become and his favourite players are some of the all-time greats.
Vaughan was such an influential character that although he never became the biggest star on the planet during his time on earth and would have his greatest commercial success following his death. Vaughan would go on to inspire a whole new generation of guitarists who never quite managed to replicate his enigmatic, unique blues style but, just by listening to him, made many recognisable names want to pick up a guitar. Even though they couldn’t necessarily play the instrument like him, budding musicians would try to be great in their own right just as Vaughan did with the guitarists he grew up with.
One guitarist who was surprisingly inspired by the blues legend is Metallica’s Kirk Hammett who would on record to say: “It’s definitely true that Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of my all-time favourite guitarists,” in a conversation with GuitarWorld. “Ironically, I was never really into Stevie while he was alive. Then, shortly after he died, I got hold of a video of him playing a live show and was just totally blown away by his timing, his tone, his feel, his vibrato, his phrasing – everything. Some people are just born to play the guitar, and Stevie was definitely one of them,” he added.
Stevie Ray Vaughan spoke to the same publication as Hammett back in 1984, a time when he discussed his guitar heroes and, in truth, there was only ever going to be one name top of the list. “I loved Jimi (Hendrix) a lot,” the late Stevie Ray Vaughan recalled about the ultimate guitarist. “He was so much more than just a blues guitarist. He could do anything. I was about sixteen when he died. I could do some of his stuff by then but actually, I’ve been trying to find out what he was doing more so lately than I was then. Now I’m really learning how to do it and I’m trying to expand on it – not that I can expand on it a whole bunch. But I try,” he humbly added.
Vaughan then went on to talk about some of the other guitar heroes that he grew up idolizing, a number of names which his style would eventually become an amalgamation of, “I started out trying to copy licks from Lonnie Mack records. He was a really big influence for me,” he admitted. “And my older brother Jimmie used to bring home records by B.B. and Albert King, Albert Collins and guys like Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy – all of ’em.”
His brother Jimmie, who Vaughan mentioned was another significant influence, was the first talent that he would try to emulate. “Jimmie would leave his guitars around the house and tell me not to touch ’em. And that’s basically how I got started. I actually wanted to be a drummer, but I didn’t have any drums. So I just go into what was available to me at the time,” Vaughan noted.
Django Reinhardt is another icon of music, who Vaughan went as far as saying was on a similar level to Hendrix which is about as high praise as you could ever wish for. “To me, Django and Jimi were doing the same thing in a lot of ways. Django would do it with acoustic guitar and Jimi would do it on electric, using feedback and things. Instead of using feedback, Django would just shake those strings like crazy. And neither one of them had anything to build on – they just did it.”
“Django didn’t have any book or anything to borrow from. He wrote the book. Same with Jimi. Nobody was doing those kinds of electronic things he was doing. He just did it.”
The reason why Vaughan became such a one-of-a-kind guitarist is that he wasn’t brought up an exclusive diet of just one type of playing which is why he created such a dynamic sound. It’s also why in the 30 years since his death why the amount of people who revere him spans so many different fields and even has infected Metallica’s Kirk Hammett who is an example of someone that Vaughan lives on through.