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

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Comments (12)
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  • 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.

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