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Music

Stevie Ray Vaughan recommends three underrated guitarists

@SamWKemp

Stevie Ray Vaughan is surely one of the most romantic figures in American blues music. Ferociously talented, the guitarist’s life was cut tragically short on August 27th, 1990, when the 35-year-old’s helicopter spun out of control and crashed, killing him and four others. The shock of his death quickly cast his life in a new light. Today, Vaughan is revered not only as a talented musician but as an innovator of the blues genre. With albums like Texas Flood (1983) and Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984), Stevie breathed life into what many believed was a dying art. In doing so, he introduced countless people to one of America’s greatest musical inventions. Here, the guitarist names some of the blues guitarists who failed to receive the recognition they deserved.

Speaking to Michael Corcoran back in 1989, Vaughan listed a handful of musicians he believed had been overlooked. First up: Denny Freeman, a blues guitarist from Austin, Texas, who began his career as the co-lead guitarist of the Cobras, with whom he played alongside Vaughan. “Denny Freeman. I know he’s got some recognition lately. But he’s still underrated,” Stevie said of his friend. “He’s just incredible. I guess the main thing I learned from him was how to really play rhythm. But he’s also a great example of a player who has a thread that runs through his solos. He’s always thinking ahead when he’s playing.”

Vaughan went on to mourn the lack of recognition afforded to American guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, son of the songwriter and drummer Doyle Bramhall. Best known for his work with British rockers Roger Waters and Eric Clapton, Bramhall was described by Stevie with the utmost respect: “He’ll pull it out of a hat and just scare you,” the guitarist told Corcoran. “Some of the things that I wish I could play the way I want to, he’ll just pull ’em out. His style is kinda like the best parts of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. It could be only a couple notes. But it’s the timing that just gets you.”

But Vaughan was interested in more than the blues. In fact, his virtuosic control of melody owes a lot to great (and shamefully underrated) jazz players such as Kenny Burrell, who played alongside the great Jimmy Smith on the 1965 hit ‘Organ Grinde Swing’. “I saw Kenny Burrell a couple years ago and he just killed me,” Stevie said. “I don’t think I can play jazz. I can play jazz-y, but I don’t really know enough about it to take off.”

These three guitarists, in Vaughan’s eyes, represented the pinnacle of guitarmanship. If you’re one of the many blues fans yet to hear their work, you can find some of their best tracks below.