As a guitarist being compared to Jimi Hendrix is like a dock worker being compared to Noah. Fortunately for Stevie Ray Vaughan, he is one of the very few to ever pick up a six-string and sit in the same league as the fuzzy-haired psychedelic blues forebearer. Now that’s a compliment that Vaughan no doubt adored considering Hendrix is the very man who inspired him to even amp his electric toothbrush up way beyond the Spinal Tap recommended level of 11.
Vaughan brought blues back in the 1980s and infused it with an adrenalised electronic edge. This scintillating sonic mix of the old and the new is what made his sound so iconic — and it was his unrivalled skill that catapulted that unique sound into the rarefied air of the guitar greats.
Speaking with Billy Pinnell in 1984, Vaughan recalled the moment that he first heard Hendrix and knew he wanted to be a guitarist. “It was in my bedroom,” he began, “my brother brought his first record home before it was really released in the States. He had a connection, I’m not sure who it was and of course, it blew me out.”
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The glossy-eyed guitarist then continued: “At the same time you could hear where it was coming from, the music was quite different than anything I’d ever heard before. But the same influences were there. His influences had a lot to do with the same influences that I’ve grown up with, other than his influence in particular.”
Much like Vaughan, although a public record of them bending twelve-bar blues on an acoustic is very rare, it was this more primitive style that was honed into the full visceral assault of their electric work. In this regard, they both contained a fair dash of the bluesmen of old.
As Vaughan continued: “Albert Collins, B.B. King, Albert King—these people were all rolled into Jimi Hendrix’s music. A lot of people don’t realize that and it’s a shame in one way but good in another. Now that it can be brought out and people can understand that.” As a result, even in the gaudy ‘80s when most guitar work was ultra-glam, Vaughan had the confidence to go against the grain and put out a sound that harked back to the origins of rock ‘n’ roll.
As he told MTV, this emboldened style always had his hero in mind. “I just do my best to do what I can to carry his music on,” the humble Vaughan told MTV. “This is much as anybody else’s music that I appreciated in my life. I love him like he was my brother.” Sadly, both stars are no longer with us, but this notion of a legacy is certainly true, as the blues continues to be the lifeblood of some of the best modern music coupled with the cutting edge of individualism that they extolled in spades.