‘I can’t stand him mate – he’s just a total Jimi Hendrix rip off. He has no originality and no licks of his own. His music is so boring to listen to…’
So stated my local barber on a damp and dreary Saturday afternoon in London. Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys were playing over the speakers, and the barber himself was sporting a huge tattoo of Hendrix’s face on his forearm. Evidently he didn’t feel quite the same love for Stevie Ray – the virtuoso blues guitarist famous for songs like Pride and Joy and Texas Flood.
I didn’t challenge him on it. Other than this one moment of madness – I’d rank the chat amongst one of the best I’ve had in a barber’s chair, and I certainly didn’t want to compromise the quality of my haircut by getting into a heated discussion about Stevie Ray Vaughan’s originality.
The conversation stuck with me though. Stevie is one of my all-time favourite musicians, and perhaps the guitarist who first got me hooked on the blues (even if I’ve been thwarted in all of my attempts to learn Scuttle Buttin’…) Earlier that morning, I had planned a post-haircut writing session and had been debating how to get this blog off the ground. So I thought the topic would make a fitting start.
Jimi Hendrix and SRV – A Flawed Comparison
The comparison between Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t exactly new. Vaughan was compared with Hendrix for most of his career and famously covered two of Jimi Hendrix’s best known songs – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and Little Wing.
When questioned on the comparison (as he often was), Vaughan was characteristically modest:
There’s only one Jimi Hendrix and there’ll never be another one. I just do my best… to carry his music on
Aside from showing himself to be both humble and very respectful – Vaughan perfectly captures the flaws inherent in the comparison. To compare Jimi Hendrix to any guitarist before or since, is ill judged.
Jimi Hendrix is lauded by many as the greatest guitarist of all time. In my opinion this is not because of his technical ability or song writing, despite both being exceptional. Rather it is because of the immense and lasting impact he had on the world of music.
Jimi Hendrix – The Destroyer of Gods
When Jimi Hendrix touched down in London in 1966, he arrived as an outsider in a music scene that was both cutting edge and well established. Cream, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles (amongst others) had achieved worldwide acclaim. The London music scene was like nothing that had ever come before. It also wasn’t in short supply of virtuosic guitarists. Jeff Beck was an established and well-known player, and such was Eric Clapton’s prowess, that fans worshipped him as a divine being – the street graffiti famously reading, CLAPTON IS GOD.
Having been in London for only a week, Jimi Hendrix attended a Cream gig and put in a request to jam with the band. Given both Cream and Eric Clapton’s notoriety, the request was pretty audacious. What followed, changed the landscape of music irreversibly. Hendrix launched into one of Clapton’s favourite songs – a rendition of Killing Floor, by Howlin’ Wolf – and totally outplayed Clapton.
The effect on Cream, on Clapton and on the audience, were profound. In challenging and beating Clapton, Hendrix overthrew God. He single handedly destroyed the established world order and ushered in a new age for music. That moment was so impactful, that every guitar player since, has been unable to match it. After all – once God has been destroyed, what is left for everyone else?
Psychedelic Blues-Rock vs Texas Blues
Even though comparisons between Jimi Hendrix and any other player are flawed, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the key differences between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, as well as those similarities that unify them.
The first – and perhaps the biggest difference between Hendrix and Vaughan, is their style of blues. Hendrix’s playing is heavy and is categorised more as rock than it is as blues. Within his particular style of rock, there are also heavy influences of funk, soul and psychedelic music. The album Electric Ladyland is evidence of this eclectic mix, as are the final recordings of Hendrix, taken from the live shows of his newly formed ‘Band of Gypsys’.
Vaughan by contrast, plays a much ‘straighter’ kind of blues. Unlike Hendrix, he didn’t look to the British blues scene for inspiration. Growing up in Dallas, he was heavily influenced by the legends of the Lone Star state; Albert King, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins.
His music is more recognisable as blues – and specifically Texas Blues (which he played a huge role in establishing). There is little, if any deviation from this style.
This is reflected in the sounds of the two players. Hendrix was a big fan of experimenting with different effects – some of his most iconic solos see him use heavy amounts of fuzz, octave effects and wah-wah. Aside from using the latter on his version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Vaughan was much more sparing in his use of different tones and effects. Throughout his career he used only a couple of different effects pedals, and his beautiful and very distinctive tone remains almost the same from song to song.
SRV: The ‘Sharpshooter’
I would also suggest (perhaps controversially) that Vaughan is a more precise player than Hendrix. In fact this precision is one of the defining characteristics of Vaughan’s style. His playing is always controlled, even when it aggressive and intense. I can’t recall any moments where he is imprecise or sloppy.
You can’t say the same of Hendrix. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way – there is a real rawness to Hendrix’s playing and it is part of what makes it so impactful. It is, as one commentator wrote, ‘the perfect kind of sloppy’. This is particularly the case in his live performances, where he becomes so totally immersed in his playing, that his soloing is like a stream of consciousness. Parts of it are clear and controlled, whilst others are totally wild and almost nonsensical. This (almost) instrumental version of Red House, performed in Stockholm in 1969 is a clear indication of his style (as is the rest of that set – even though he’s not using his customary Fender Stratocaster).
The comparison is clearest when you listen to their different versions of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Both versions showcase phenomenal playing, but Hendrix’s version has a certain rawness to it that Vaughan’s version does not. Whether you favour precision or otherwise is a thing of personal preference. For me at least though, this is a real difference between their playing and style of music.
Sex, Drugs and the ’27 Club’
Given that Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were playing in different decades and in different countries from one another, it is not surprising that there are both vast and innumerable differences between them. What is more surprising perhaps, is just how much they had in common.
Both men had difficult childhoods. Hendrix’s mother gave birth to him when she was just 17 and she went on to leave home a few years later. After that, Hendrix saw her only sporadically before she died 16 years later. Although to the outside world, Vaughan had a more stable family unit, his father was in fact an alcoholic and a violent drunk. His life growing up was equally turbulent.
In adult life, both men struggled with substance abuse. Following his father’s example – Vaughan started abusing alcohol when he was just 7 or 8 years old. When he grew up, the lifestyle and pressures of touring led him to harder drugs and he soon became addicted to cocaine. So the story goes, his morning pick me up consisted of a glass of whiskey with cocaine dissolved into it.
Combined with a relentless touring schedule, this eventually resulted in Vaughan having a physical and mental breakdown, in Germany in 1986. Whilst in hospital there and before being checking himself into rehab, doctors told him that his state of health was so poor, he had the ‘Stomach of a 65 year old man’ and would be dead within years if he continued.
If Vaughan’s drug of choice was cocaine, then Hendrix’s was psychedelics and in particular, LSD. In the words of his peers:
He had this tolerance, which was remarkable for his physical size. One would not believe that he could take so much of those expanders and be conscious
It undoubtedly had a huge impact on his music and live performances. Unlike Vaughan, sadly Hendrix was not able to overcome his addictions. If we are to believe the official reports (I’ll save the alternative theories for another day) these addictions finally overcame him in 1970. He became a member of the infamous ’27 Club’ and a symbol of the ‘live fast, die young’ lifestyle.
Sobriety and the Supernatural
Conversely, in the last years of his life, Vaughan became a spokesperson for sobriety. He talked at length in interviews about his addictions and encouraged his fans and struggling musicians to approach him on the subject. The lasting impact of this was profound – a point highlighted by John Mayer when Stevie was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015:
Stevie had incredible courage. He fought to overcome the demons of drug and alcohol addiction and when he did, he returned to the stage an even better guitar player for it. The only reason that I know exactly what sobriety meant to Stevie…is because he had the courage to talk openly about it on stage.
For both Vaughan and Hendrix, drugs offered a release from the pressures of fame and notoriety. Off stage, Vaughan and Hendrix were shy and reserved characters. They were humble, softly spoken and evidently slightly uncomfortable with the status assigned to them. This was perhaps best illustrated when Hendrix was asked if he was the best guitar player in the world. He responded, ‘how about the best one sitting in this chair?’
That both men were modest and reserved off stage, makes their on stage performances all the more incredible. It is this which ultimately unifies them and why comparisons between them abound. For both, the guitar allowed them to transcend the limits of the physical and channel a power through their playing. To watch a performance by Hendrix or Vaughan is to watch someone transformed by the guitar into something almost supernatural. It illustrates the immense possibilities that guitar playing offers and is truly inspirational.
The Ultimate Guitar Hero
If his originality is ever again brought into question in my presence, I hope I’ll be better equipped to argue in support of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I watched a lot of footage for the research of this article and it only enforced my love for him. Beyond the amazing music he produced, he comes across as a humble, kind and gentle man. His untimely death was a great tragedy.
Thankfully, his work lives on and continues to inspire the next generation of blues guitarists. On this point, John Mayer summarised it perfectly when he inducted Vaughan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
‘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.’
I’ll remember that one next time I’m in the barber’s chair.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love 😁 Thank you!
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Gregory, Hugh (2003). Roadhouse Blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Texas R&B, The Famous People – SRV, Rolling stone Article, Biography.com, Wikipedia, Youtube, Youtube – Jimi Interview, Youtube – Stevie Interview, Youtube – Stevie Influences, Youtube – Stevie on Jimi comparison, Youtube – Clapton and Jimi, Youtube – Jimi and LSD
Feature Image of Stevie Ray Vaughan – ©RTBusacca / MediaPunch (Taken from Alamy)
SRV emulated hendricks as hendricks did with someone else…. saying steves misic is boring and unoriginal is sick…. its blues bro….listen to ANY blues man/woman and its usually the same. However, some bluesmen have “it” and some dont. You can tell when they play. Srv, jimi, bb king etc etc have it….others (will remain unamed) can play the blues but just cant connect ot very well
Great article! I learned a lot. I have always thought that SRV was a spiritual successor to Hendrix, maybe because of the Little Wing cover. That said, I can’t identify who I would say is SRV’s successor. Early on I had hoped Kenny Wayne Shepard might be that player, but it’s clear to me that he can’t fill those shoes as good as he is. What do you think? Who would you put next in the line from Hendrix to SRV to … ?
no comparison Stevie Ray came from the blues he was trying to make his own identity with the songs he wrote in some ways he was better than Hendrix as a blues player I think he was the greatest to ever pick up a guitar Jimi was much more imaginative of a player I think Stevie respected him and his playing more than anyone he was a genius and Stevie had his own style all players have influences Stevie was not ashamed to admit Albert and Jimi were his man influences he wore them on his sleeve but his intensity live cannot be matched by anyone and he enough of his own licks and expecially rythmic patterns to go around his playing was very precise Hendrix was much more LSD and much more imaginative than STEVIE they are both great trying to put one down because of another is very childish and I’m sure STEVIE and JIMI would be laughing and I know Jimi Hendrix would of loved STEVIE and his guitar style Apples to ORANGES GO figure I’m glad I can look at these guys and appreciate what they did its not a competition its entertainment and ART at its best sincerely Patrick Ginter
My Barber a Belfastman who spent some of the 60’s in London, always ask me what Jimi said when asked: ” Jimi, how does it feel to be the best guitarist in the world, and Jimi replied, I don’t know, ask Rory Gallagher!!”. Its always an adventure at his shop, and if you start talking politics your hair gets shorter and shorter! I now go for a #2 buzz!! Never a dull moment, I go to hang out whenever my wife gets her hair done…they have had a love/hate relationship for 30 years!
Haha it sounds like your barber and mine would probably get on quite well with each other! 😆 I’ve heard that story quite a few times – and whilst I am not totally sure if it is true or it’s a bit of an urban legend – there is a clip from the Dick Cavett show where Cavett says to Hendrix ‘You’re considered one of the best guitarists in the world’, and Hendrix responds ‘how about one of the best sitting in this chair!?. So humble and unassuming – what an absolute legend! 😁
That barber will never know what it’s like to have a full and satisfied soul. What a shame. Still, he’s the captain of his own ship and should be allowed to be. There is no point in arguing with people about personal preferences. No matter how many logical arguments you throw at the barber, he will always be seeking to keep his soul limited because he’s conditioned himself that way. You’re not going to make him stop hating SRV, I wouldn’t waste your time with clever arguments. His ship has sailed. Ironically, a barber with a limited view argues for one of the most unlimited souls of all time. That to me is a funny irony of that barbers opinion. Of course he loves Jimi. Jimi has one thing the barber doesn’t have and never will have – a full and satisfied, limitless soul with no boundaries. It must be tiring for that barber to have to drag all that A vs B bullshit around with him. Screw that baggage, give me a bit of everything I’m a greedy boy.
Man, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a kind and insightful comment. I hadn’t truly appreciated the irony of his view, but your are absolutely right – there is something comical and slightly odd about comparing two musicians in a way that those players would never have done themselves. Like you I’m here to enjoy it all and take as much as I can from different guitarists and their approach to playing! 😁
SRV sucked. A one trick pony.
I think many people that love rock music but aren’t massive blues fans, prefer Hendrix over SRV simply because he was primarily a rock musician ( influenced by the blues like jimmy page etc) I would suggest your barbers view merely reflects that loves rock. I bet if SRV had written rock songs, and music that regularly topped the charts, the way Hendrix did, it may be much more difficult for him to decide. From what I gather of SRV, this wasn’t ever what he wanted to do.
Thank you very much for your insightful comment Adam, I really appreciate it. Truthfully I hadn’t fully considered that angle, but I think you are absolutely right. Being a narrower genre than rock, the blues is going to have fewer followers – and in turn that is likely to be reflected by conversations such as those I had with my barber. You are also right that SRV had little interest in going mainstream with his music – a point that I think he illustrated quite forcefully in his early career by dropping out of a touring opportunity with David Bowie, and also by playing exactly what he wanted to play at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1982, much to the displeasure of some of the crowd there! 😅
Your article was informative, thoughtful and engaging. Thank you.
Also, I love playing tennis almost as much as I do the guitar. So, to compare Roger Federer to Djokovic, Borg, Sampras or anyone else is an exercise in egocentrism. Whether Roger goes down in history as the greatest of all time to your point, his imprint and impact on the sport is similar to Michael Jordan. Regardless of what position any of these men hold in history, their impact, passion and inspiration that they create is not only life changing but sustainable.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for your kind words Taki, I really appreciate it. I also love a good sports analogy and I think you summed it up perfectly! 😁
If you watch Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live At the El Mocambo and you aren’t blown away, then I’m sorry I don’t know what to tell you. You need to check your pulse? In my opinion this was his best performance captured on film. Also, to any SRV doubters, try listening to something other than just his hits on Classic Rock radio. Try one of his bootlegs like Unsurpassed Masters volume 1.
Side note, I had the chance to visit his resting place in early September. It was quiet, no one was around and it was so peaceful. Got to spend some time there and pay my respects. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or listen to the wonderful music he gave us.
Thank you so much for the comment Kevin and I think you’re absolutely right. Live at The El Mocambo is just amazing – the passion and intensity in Vaughan’s playing still blows my head off, even after all of these years.
I think your recommendation to look at some of the lesser known tracks and albums is great too. I’ve been guilty in the past of just playing the classic hits, but there are some amazing songs on some of the lesser known live albums, and a lot of material to discover! 😁
Thank you for putting into words, clearly, concisely, and in a respectful manner, what I have been trying to convey to others for years. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan and have always had some difficulty explaining why he ranks as the “greatest” guitar player. I love listening to all the greats. Jimmy Page, Clapton, Gilmore, on and on. For me, however, Stevie Ray had an ability to effect you with his guitar. It’s hard to describe. After hearing him about 35 years ago, his music style still has the same effect on me.
Hendrix was a phenomenon. An innovator. Sort of a “pioneer” in a way. At the time, his style didn’t immediately win me over. After all, I was only a junior high aged kid. As I grew older, his innovative style became more and more impressive. He truly effected many who came after him. Including Stevie Ray.
For me, while Hendrix will always be seen as the “greatest” by many, I am not effected in the same way by his style, as I am by SRV. This takes nothing away from Hendrix or his talent. He was amazing.
When friends ask why I feel SRV was the greatest, I’d rather not argue. I just say, “watch some video of his live performances.” Not everyone cares for the music genre, but if they watch him play, and listen, they cannot escape the fact that SRV was just as much a “phenomenon” as Hendrix. In my mind there will never be another Hendrix. And there will NEVER be another Stevie Ray Vaughan. More than 30 years since we lost him, he is still able to amaze, entertain, and inspire. Such a tragic loss.
Thank you so much for the kind words Murray, I really appreciate it. I think your assessment is absolutely spot on and reflects the way that I feel about the two musicians. To me they are both unbelievable players, and the depth in Hendrix’s playing, in addition to his technical ability and how he fundamentally changed the way electric guitar was played – will rightly have him recognised as one of – if not the – greatest guitarist of all time.
Yet there is something about SRV’s playing – as well as the playing of guitarists like Peter Green, B.B. King and Derek Trucks – which has an impact on me in a different and more profound way. Like you, I am still inspired listening to SRV almost 20 years after I first heard him play. And to me that is truly special.
I was fortunate enough to witness Hendrix playing his spacey ass off in Seattle, in 1969!….ever since, I have been convinced that he was the most “special” of all our guitar heroes…he just had no fear, and took the music wherever he felt like taking it. As for SRV…he was definitely the best since Jimi…but his better overall precision was honed by 20 solid years of practice–before he was discovered at the age of 27. Hendrix did not pick up an electric guitar until he was 15yo, and by the time he was 23 or so, his very natural skills, helped by an extremely compulsive amount of practice, allowed him to achieve what he did–in just 8 years playing!…So of the two, Jimi was surely the more “natural” talent…but more raw, and at times a little off-center….I certainly agree that Stevie was the overall more accomplished player…but Jimi was the most innovative, the most unusual, etc. As a young concert goer (who happened to be black) said to me, as we were leaving the Seattle venue..”That (N-word!) is 10 years ahead of his time!”…and that is just how Hendrix impacted the late 60s musical world…he was unique, and at the time, so alone with his particular genius burning inside of him. We were lucky to have such a powerful talent among us.
Thank you so much for sharing that story Jack – it must have been an amazing experience to see Hendrix perform live!
I think you’ve summed him up perfectly there as well. When you listen to the depth of his playing, and the compositions he was putting together, you realise just how complex and advanced they were. He pioneered new techniques and fundamentally changed the way that musicians approached the electric guitar. And in this way, I think that every guitarist who has since picked up the instrument owes him a debt of gratitude.
I was fortunate to see Hendrix twice in 1968. It was revolutionary during an enormous wave of different music at the time. Gotta say tho’ as much as his performance was visceral and unforgettable…., the shtick of lighting his guitar on fire at the end made me uncomfortable. It was corny, knowing it was an ‘act’…not spontaneous or ‘musical’.
On the other hand…..SRV playing behind his back, sideways, & every other way…has never felt schlocky, just organic. When I initially saw Texas Flood (El Mocambo), I held my breath. I didn’t want to be disappointed. His almost insoucient (but emersed in the zone) was galvanizing. His stage presence was a natural vibe,…. as in ‘This groove is deep, musical, and soulful, always 100 with attention to a profound rythm section.’.
I’ll also say it out loud…he & the music had endless sex appeal. Ask most women…like a Dwight Yoakam swag.
As I have watched his videos a gazillion times. it never gets ‘old’ and I’m transported by the entire performance.
His stage presence is a tractor beam.
When he plays & sings with no ‘extras’, that’s plenty for me. I ‘m always laser focused & tuned ALL the way in..
It’s funny cause alot of guys find his stage presence compelling also. The old ,…..’guys want to BE him, women want to ….
Thanks very much for sharing Kris – it must have been a truly amazing experience seeing Hendrix. Even after all of these years, watching clips of his performances is mesmerising and illustrates how revolutionary his approach was, both musically and artistically. As you say though, years later Stevie Ray Vaughan produced equally captivating performances for different reasons. They both continue to heavily influence and inspire me, and in my opinion they remain two of the greatest guitarists and performers of all time
It’s like comparing Mozart and Beethoven. In the same way Beethoven was able to take Mozart’s progress and use it to create something new, Stevie took all that Jimi (and many others) had achieved and created something awe-inspiring.
A few comments… You can’t fault any guitarist for when they were born and who their contemporaries are. I am a regular guy with absolutely no musical background. I can’t technically tell you why I like or dislike a singer, band, musician of any instrument. That’s all based on my preferences which I’m entitled to. We all are! All I know is that the most inexperienced singer, musician has a lot more talent than I do. I don’t waste my time arguing about religion, politics or music. All three categories result in heated exchanges by the over-zealous. Enjoy what you enjoy and let others do the same. Let those of us who have no musical success think long and hard before we criticize anyone who’s worked hard and has achieved great success. One man’s opinion.
Dude he definitely had his own style. It might have been a southern blues mixed with some old old school jazz n rock n role but it was his. Watch him and Jeff Healey jam together there is no fucking way he would ever try n rip Jimi Hendrix’s sounds. Btw jimi VERY OVER RATED. great for his time but OVER RATED.
I’m younger, being born a year after Stevie Ray Vaughn’s tragic ending..nevertheless a wholehearted SRV fan..and Hendrix, but more over a SRV “addict” [hopefully not precieved in bad taste]. I never comment like this but I couldn’t help but be impressed enough to do so. To me, Every single word in this article is Spot On. Written with intelligible precision And respectful political correctness that is ……..at loss for a word good enough to explain how much I admire your articulated point of view. Ringo Star sound off-“Peace And Love..Peace and Love..”
Thank you so much for the comment and the kind words Chuck, they made my day! I am so glad that you enjoyed reading the article, and I appreciate you sharing your love for two of the greatest guitar players and musicians there ever were. Thanks so much man and if I can ever help with your guitar playing or with anything else, just let me know. You can reach me on email@example.com and I’m always around and happy to help!
I can see how many say jimi hendrix was sloppy.
And his use of effects was
a big part of his sound.
But I havecto say..he nastered the use of feedback..so his amp
Was one of his biggest effects.
As you listen the his Woodstock performance of the Star Spangled Banner .
He deffinately uses his stack of marshal amps as an effect. To make the sounds of bombs going off…and zooming screens of what could be tra eyes or jet fighters..
I have never heard anyone do that before or single with a electric guitar and the technology
Available in 1969.
As for rythem…jimi Hendrix was more of a rythem play in the sens that his lisks like power of love, Izabella….are very complicated..
In the note he 0layed and the way he put them together.if you don’t get it right its not even recognizable.
Stevie Ray Vaughn was
one off…bringing he sound of blues…waking up the music world in the 80s….was not a easy feat,but a life long dedication to the music he lived and wanted to share.
From rude mood to couldn’t stand the weather….he showed he could keep a driving Grove going while keep it all in check.
I dont know why we compair guitar players.
These two men had there own set of rules.
The never settled.
I think it was a harder trail for SRV to get where he was.
It was a totally differant world…than that of the
And if it wasn’t for jimi Hendrix, it would have never have been changed …thecqay the electric guitar was played.
Its , in a nut shell is the way things fell into place.
Thank you so much for your comment and such a great assessment of Hendrix and SRV. I think you’re absolutely right in what you say both about Hendrix’s mixing of lead and rhythm playing, and also his amazing understanding of and use of effects and feedback. As you said, he totally changed the landscape for future guitar players, enabling guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan to work on their craft and take it in new directions. Two of the best guitar players of all time with their own approaches and strengths!
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Evidently, your barber is hard of hearing.
Hahaha well based on the later conversations I had with him, it turned out that he loved ’80s Hair Metal bands – so I think it’s safe to say we had quite different musical tastes 😅
Basically it was totally clear if you have observed both of them clearly, that SRV was an extremely precise player, and he actually stuck to the default conventional blues style, while Jimmi, used a lot of heavy effects, and mainly, Jimmi was rage, but Steve was rage without anger! You getting my point, like he wouldn’t even miss a single micro second to the notes! Overall i have been influenced by Steve like no other guitarist, not even legends like Slash, Joe satraini, Steve vai, i mean yeah they are legends but SRV, im just glued to him man when he plays, well that was my opinion, yours could be different.
Great article. I’m not a huge fan of SRV mostly because I find most of his songs aren’t to my liking. A like a few but most leave me cold. While I think he deserves a ton of credit for his role in reviving the blues/electric blues in the 80’s I also feel that because he was one of a very few doing it at the time he tends to get way too much praise. Had he come up in the 70’s he certainly would take a back seat to guys like Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower etc. All of whom are criminally underrated and have much deeper catalogs. Just my two cents.
Thanks so much for the comment RD, I think you make a very interesting and insightful point. As you can probably guess – I am a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan and I do think that he is a fantastic guitar player. Personally I think that he is so celebrated because of the nature of his playing. In a sense it is very simple. He used (mostly) simple scales and he never strayed too far from the basic blues form. He also didn’t use any complex effects like Jimi Hendrix or Robin Trower.
Yet he achieves a sound and creates a feel in his playing that has never really been replicated, just through the sheer intensity and physicality of his playing. He played with a huge amount of intensity, pretty much all of the time. And to play with the same approach is very challenging. John Mayer said that he can recreate it for small sections of songs, but to try and recreate it for whole songs is impossible. And I think he summed up Vaughan’s style pretty well when he said that. I also think – guitar playing aside- that Vaughan’s songs have always appealed to an audience outside of guitar players. A lot of his songs are upbeat and catchy, and I think that a lot of people enjoy listening to them purely for that reason.
Having said that, I do think you have highlighted the importance not only of historical context but also of marketability. And I believe this does play a significant role in Vaughan’s legacy. A white guy from Texas, dressed as a cowboy and playing fiery blues guitar licks really stands out, and as you mentioned this was particularly the case at a time when the blues wasn’t quite so popular. I also think Vaughan played the system a bit more than some of the other players you’ve mentioned. He played on the ‘Let’s Dance’ album with David Bowie and later with artists like Jennifer Warne. Although the collaboration with Bowie didn’t end that smoothly – it certainly helped to increase his exposure.
Conversely, if you look at Rory Gallagher – you see an example of a musician who was totally set on just playing the music that he wanted to play, and doing it his way. He flatly refused to compromise his artistic vision on any occasion (and once turned down the offer of joining the Rolling Stones!) I think that has now become part of Gallagher’s legacy, but during his career I suspect there are times when he passed up some opportunities that could have helped introduce him to a wider audience. I’m not saying that Vaughan sold out, as I think he was equally driven to play his style of music. But I do think he probably played the system a bit better than a lot of his peers.
As a final observation – what I do find interesting, is the way these players are imitated. There are a lot of guitar players who achieve a sound and playing style similar to Stevie Ray Vaughan. But I have never heard a guitar player get close to sounding like Rory Gallagher, or Peter Green, or B.B. King. I am not sure if that is because there are just more players who have tried to sound like Vaughan, or whether it is just more difficult to sound like those other guitarists. Either way, I would love to see someone come along now and play like Rory Gallagher!
Great article and thanks for writing. I love SRV, any information is great education. What I will say is that where are any of these type of talents today? So happy I grew up and had Stevie and Jimmie. Buy a great sound system and play their music and transcend yourself to a place of inner blys. I wish we could have more of this unadulterated talent fill the stages with no commercialism, just unique wonderful sound that you can’t put in a can! Thanks, Steve
Thanks so much for the comment Steve. I really appreciate the kind words and it’s great to hear that you enjoyed reading the article! And I think you’re absolutely right man – there are some amazing modern blues guitarists out there, but what these guys had was a raw intensity and passion to their playing that is inimitable. No matter what other blues music I discover or listen to, I always return to these guys and continue to be blown away by their playing!
bringing up arguably literally one of the worst shows in Hendrix’s career just to state that it’s “a clear indication of his style”? Man, you are full of crap.
“Vaughan by contrast, plays a much ‘straighter’ kind of blues.” Huh? Guess who else was HEAVILY influenced by the blues greats you mentioned.
Thanks very much for the comment ‘Anonymous’ and no need to curse my man, this is a family show 😁 Perhaps that particular show was a poor example, and not the best indication of Hendrix’s style, but the point remains valid. Whether you watch Hendrix’s live performances or listen to his studio recordings, his style is much looser than Stevie Ray Vaughan’s. In fact one of the techniques for which Hendrix is famous is the way that he manipulates rhythms and plays in free time for sections of his solos, before locking back into the groove. I’m of course not suggesting that Hendrix doesn’t have an absolutely killer sense of timing, I am instead asserting that he plays in a looser style than Vaughan, who is renowned for always sticking in the groove and being right in the pocket.
As for the second point, I don’t really perceive that as being controversial at all. You only have to compare any Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan album to realise that Hendrix strayed much further away from the traditional blues form than Vaughan. ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, ‘Castles Made of Sand’, ‘Are You Experienced’, ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ etc. – the list of songs where Hendrix moved away from the blues and experimented with different styles and genres is almost endless. That is not to say that the blues isn’t evident in Hendrix’s playing. Nor is it to say that there aren’t clear influences from earlier bluesmen in his music. Instead it is to say that the musical link between Stevie Ray Vaughan and his influences (of which Hendrix was a key one) is much more obvious, because Vaughan didn’t experiment with the blues genre in the same way.
I hope that helps to give a bit more clarity to what I wrote in the article. Thanks man and have a great day!
Great stuff Aidan. Discovered your site very recently and really like the quality of your articles. Well researched and well written. Very helpful and eye-opening for the beginner that I am.
Thank you so much for the kind words Julien, they made my day! I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the articles and I hope your playing is going well so far. If you ever have any questions at all about playing, gear, or anything else to do with guitars or blues music, please do get in touch. You can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to help 🙂
No piece man! I really enjoyed that.
Serge (a blues man)
I’m so glad to hear you liked the article and thanks so much for taking the time to comment Serge, I really appreciate it. I hope your playing is going well man! 😁