Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Best Guitar Solos
Stevie Ray Vaughan was the guitarist who first got me hooked on the blues. He is a blues guitarist who has it all – amazing touch and feel, beautiful tone, and the ability to play at great speed. As John Mayer so succinctly put it:
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 wanted to shortlist some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos for a number of reasons. On a basic level, listening to these solos is immensely enjoyable. They are some of the best constructed and most technically skilful solos in the history of the blues.
On a deeper level, they are a source of inspiration, as well as a resource to develop your own playing. Listen to them and look out for the techniques and approach that Stevie Ray Vaughan uses. There is something that you can learn from each of these solos that will improve your skills as a blues guitarist.
So without further ado, here are some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos:
Scuttle Buttin’ was one of the first Stevie Ray Vaughan songs I ever heard. I had only been playing guitar for about a year and became obsessed with trying to learn it. 15 years later and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it…
It is a song that illustrates Vaughan’s technical proficiency in full force. The guitar playing is lightening fast but totally precise; Vaughan manages to maintain the clarity of each note. He does this all whilst playing with only a slight crunch to his tone, which makes his playing all the more impressive.
When you listen to guitarists playing at speed, they almost always play with heavy amounts of distortion. This causes the notes to run into each other, which has two effects. Firstly, it creates the illusion of greater speed. It makes it sound as if more notes are being played than is really the case. It also helps to disguise inaccuracy. That Vaughan plays at such speed with such accuracy is testament to his immense talent. Without doubt, Scuttle Buttin’ features one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos and shows off some of his best guitar playing.
In my opinion, the intro solo of this live version of Texas Flood is one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos from a live performance. At first it bears a lot of similarities to the album version of the song. But just watch Vaughan around a minute into the song. He resolves the final phrase of the intro solo (as it appears on the album version) and leans into the mic to start singing. Then he changes his mind and decides to go back for more. He extends the solo for another minute.
It is moments like this that highlight the passion and intensity of Vaughan’s playing. There are few (if any) blues guitarists in the history of the genre who have played with the same intensity. And the intro solo is just Stevie getting started. At 3.40 he launches into another blistering guitar solo, which lasts for more than 4 minutes. Texas Flood is one of my favourite Stevie Ray songs and this extended version is unbelievably good.
Stevie Ray Vaughan spent much of his career being compared to Jimi Hendrix. Although their playing styles and music were quite different, the comparison is understandable. They are amongst an exclusive group of guitarists who channeled a seemingly supernatural force when they played. Shy and understated off stage, both men transcended the limits of the physical and channeled a power through their playing.
Vaughan was a huge fan of Hendrix and was deeply influenced by his playing. In addition to Voodoo Child, Vaughan also famously did an instrumental cover version of Little Wing.
The guitar playing in both songs is exceptional, but in my opinion it is Voodoo Child that features some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos.
Unlike his cover of Little Wing, Vaughan stays much closer to the original with his version of Voodoo Child (albeit his version is longer as a result of the extended soloing). Yet whilst the structure of the solos are the same, they highlight the inherent differences between the two players. Hendrix’s version has a certain rawness to it that Vaughan’s version does not. In his version of the song, Vaughan maintains the ‘sharpshooter’ precision that is characteristic of his style. The song shows that his playing is always controlled, even when it aggressive and intense.
Double Trouble’s performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 gave them their big break. On the night, they actually received a mixed reception from the crowd. The line up for the festival was predominantly acoustic based and many weren’t ready for Vaughan’s electrifying brand of the blues (or his on stage antics). At points they were even booed. But it exposed them to a wider audience and resulted in them recording their debut album Texas Flood shortly afterwards.
Pride and Joy was one of the few original songs Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble played that night. It has since gone on to become one of their most famous. The guitar solo in this live version is very similar to that on the album and highlights one of the most notable elements of Stevie Ray’s playing; his ability to keep perfect time and ‘play in the pocket’. Though he makes it look easy, it is in fact very difficult – especially over a fast Texas shuffle. The solo – both on this song and on the album version – is one of my favourites.
This isn’t one of my favourite Stevie Ray Vaughan songs, nor in fact do I think that the it features one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos. But just skip to 2.17 on the clip. Halfway into his guitar solo, the high E string snaps off Stevie Ray’s guitar. He doesn’t even flinch. He just finishes his solo, switches his guitar and cracks on. It is so smooth that if you just listen to the audio, there is no disruption at all to the song.
It illustrates not only the ferocity of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing (it isn’t easy to snap gauge 13 guitar strings!) but also the professionalism of him, his band and his team.
This song featured on In Step – the final studio album of Vaughan’s career. Although the song features two solos, it is the first of these that I think is one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos. This is for two reasons. Firstly; it illustrates how skilful Vaughan was at ‘spacing’ (leaving gaps of silence within a solo) Just listen to the beginning of the solo at 1.20. Spacing is something with which a lot of guitarists struggle, but this first solo shows how effective spacing is when used properly.
It also highlights the effectiveness of repetition. Vaughan relies on only a handful of phrases for this solo and uses a lot of repetition. Far from being boring, these sections build tension and make the solo more effective.
The guitar solos in this song reinforce my strongly held belief that it is not the notes you play, but rather how you play them that matters. From a technical perspective, both the intro and the main guitar solos are quite simple. But they sound amazing because of the quality of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s vibrato and his pick attack.
In my opinion, a lot of blues guitarists overemphasise the importance of speed or jazzy, exotic sounding scales. In doing so, they lose sight of how important it is to play with feel and expression. The guitar solos in Change It show that you only a handful of notes to solo effectively. You just need to play them with the right touch and feel.
When Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble returned to Montreux in 1985, they were the headline act. Ain’t Gone ‘N’ Give Up on Love was one of the opening songs of their lengthy set. Although there is a beautiful guitar solo just after the 4 minute mark, it is the intro solo that I think is one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos.
Note placement is crucial in lead blues guitar. And what distinguishes decent blues guitarists from those that are brilliant, is how they emphasise certain notes within their solos. The intro solo on this live version illustrates this perfectly. Just listen to the first two notes. They convey such emotion and establish a strong sense of melody from the very beginning of the song.
Stevie Ray wrote this song for his first wife Lenora (nicknamed Lenny). When out shopping together in Austin in 1980, Vaughan spotted a 1960 Fender Stratocaster in a pawn shop. He desperately wanted it, but couldn’t afford the $350 asking price. Not wanting Vaughan to be disappointed, Lenny gathered all of his friends together. They each chipped in and raised enough money to buy Vaughan the guitar for his birthday. He was so moved by the gesture that he stayed up and wrote the song ‘Lenny’ that night.
Of all his instrumental pieces, Lenny is one of the most subtle and restrained. It showcases Vaughan’s versatility as a player and the total control he has over his guitar.
Well, there we have it – some of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best guitar solos. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening. What are your favourite Stevie Ray Vaughan solos? Let me know in the comments!