Stevie Ray Vaughan Gives a Blistering Demonstration of His Guitar Technique

What made Stevie Ray Vaughan such a great guitarist? If you ask Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, a devoted student of the blues, it’s “his timing, his tone, his feel, his vibrato, his phrasing–everything. Some people are just born to play guitar, and Stevie was definitely one of them.” This may come as disappointing news to guitar players who want to sound like SRV but weren’t born with his genes. Hammett assures them it’s possible to approximate his style, to some degree, with the right gear and mastery of his signature techniques. Hammett lays out the SRV repertoire thoroughly, but there is no substitute for the source.

SRV’s dual education in both the British blues and the American blues of his heroes gave him “less reservations and less reasons to be so-called a ‘purist,’” he says in the video above. He then proceeds to blow us away with imitations of the greats and his own particular spin on their techniques.

You could call it a guitar lesson, but as his student, you had better have advanced blues chops and a very good ear. As he runs through the styles of his idols, Vaughan doesn’t slow down or pause to explain what he’s doing. If you can keep up, you probably don’t need the lessons after all.

Although compared, favorably or otherwise, to his idol Jimi Hendrix during his life and after his tragic death at 35, Vaughan also “incorporated the jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery,” Guitar magazine notes, and was “a keen student of Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack and Otis Rush.” Muddy Waters, in turn, was a great admirer of Vaughan. “Stevie could perhaps be the greatest guitar player that ever lived,” the blues legend remarked in 1979. But like his hero Hendrix, Vaughan’s talent could be overshadowed by his addictions. “He won’t live to get 40 years old if he doesn’t leave that white powder alone,” Waters went on.

The drugs and alcohol nearly killed him, but they didn’t seem to cramp his playing. The video above comes from a January 1986 soundcheck, the same year Vaughan’s substance abuse hit its peak and he entered rehab after nearly dying of dehydration in Germany. He would get sober and survive, only to die in a helicopter crash four years later. While his early death may have something to do with the way he has been deified, what comes through in his albums and performances thirty years after he left us is the brute fact of his originality as a blues player.

Perhaps the the most concise statement of this comes from John Mayer’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech:

There is an intensity about Stevie’s guitar playing that only he could achieve, still to this day. It’s a rage without anger, it’s devotional, it’s religious. He seamlessly melded the supernatural vibe of Jimi Hendrix, the intensity of Albert King, the best of British, Texas and Chicago Blues and the class and sharp shooter precision of his older brother Jimmie. Stevie is the ultimate guitar hero.

If you’ve ever had reason to doubt, see it for yourself above.

Related Content: 

How B.B. King & Stevie Ray Vaughan Dealt With Breaking Strings Onstage Mid-Song: A Masterclass in Handling Onstage Mishaps

Stevie Ray Vaughan Plays the Acoustic Guitar in Rare Footage, Letting Us See His Guitar Virtuosity in Its Purest Form

What Happens When a Musician Plays Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” on a $25 Kids’ Guitar at Walmart

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (12) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (12)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John says:

    Supremely fortunate to have attended EVERY single SRV performance in Louisville, KY:

    8/1/83 – Stage II/Sound Stage, (Supported by Lonnie Mack)

    9/28/85 – Louisville Gardens

    2/15/87 – Louisville Gardens

    8/21/87 – Freedom Hall

    11/16/89 – Louisville Gardens (supported by Jeff Beck)

    THANKS to the fandom site for jogging my tattered & torn 65+ year old memory – AND the fact that Debbe was at each show with me. LONG LIVE THE MEMORY, MUSIC & MAGIC THAT WAS, IS & WILL FOREVER BE STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN!!!

  • Dave Warnerhes smoking hot guitar player one of the best I ve ever seen or heard will be sadly missed says:

    Will be sadly missed one of the best I’ve ever heard

  • Bengan says:

    Hendrix died at 27 not 35.

  • Richard Sepeda says:

    Always imitated but. Never Duplicate d

  • Lisa Kesselmark says:

    He was and still is the God of Guitar. 1st time I saw him play, I was actually on my pc. My bf bought the, El Macambo video. We had been arguing, and I was too busy being bitch to watch it.
    Stevie hadn’t played more than 20 seconds before I cranning my neck to get a view. I was SO blown away I went too far back and tipped the chair over.
    I scrambled to the TV. I was expecting that 4 or 5 people were in the band. My jaw nearly hit the floor next,realzing that Stevie played lead and backup.
    And he did it with perfection, power and tenderness.
    HE IS A ONE AND ONLY! I’d bet my life on it.

    Lisa Kesselmark

  • Jeff says:

    SRV died at 35. Think you missunderstood.

  • Eric G Jacobson says:

    Nothing like “reporting” something that was already reported 30 years ago…. lol?

  • Alan finley says:

    SRV he is the best there is the best there was and the best there ever will be we miss you and your music terribly and always will rip brother forever

  • Loren Williams says:

    If you like the guitar shredding style of SRV and Jimi Hendrix you’ll also appreciate the still living blues stylings of Jimi Hendrix cousin Eddy Hall. He can be heard online for free at SoundCloud. Go to the SoundCloud website and type in Eddy Hall Guitarist. Eddy is the best guitarist that nobody knows about! Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. Listen to songs titled ‘Sadly Happy’ and ‘The World’s Going Down’ for modern day guitar playing reminiscent of days gone by…

  • Lisa Kesselmark says:

    Are you talking to me, Jeff? If you are…. Nope… Nahh……
    Im not gonna do it! Your a lucky man, Jeff.
    By the way, there was nothing said that wasn’t diffinitively understood!

    By everyone else.

    Lisa Kesselmark

  • Lisa Kesselmark says:

    I apologize. My last comment was for an earlier post someone else had left.
    God Bless you and yours,

    Lisa K

  • bobo says:

    I worked with a guy who grew up with the Vaughn brothers. He said Jimmy was ok, but Stevie was dumb as a rock. If he didnt have music, he would have died in a ditch.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.