Yesterday, I wrote about LL Cool J and a song he recorded 22 years ago. And 22 years ago today, Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed when the helicopter he was in crashed into a mountain. Four other passengers, including Eric Clapton’s agent Bobby Brooks, were also killed. It still stands out in my mind as one of the most senseless and eerie rock tragedies in my lifetime.
I was attending my local community college at the time, taking creative writing classes. As I was preparing to leave for school, I heard on KLOS that one of the choppers leaving a concert at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin had crashed. (The concert was a guitar lovers dream, part of a tour that featured Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray & Jimmie Vaughan.) The report stated that the chopper was part of Clapton’s tour, and that no one yet knew who was on board. It was a little freaky for me, as a young rock guitar fan, to leave my house and access to the news without knowing whether or not Eric Clapton was still alive. I know all the other people involved were very important, and that the deaths that occurred were no less tragic, but it was weird thinking a legend of Clapton’s stature might be gone.
I got home, found out Clapton was alive (whew!), but that SRV was gone. He had toured the year before with Jeff Beck, and I remembered being gripped with an overwhelming urge to see that show, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me (I don’t drive, and didn’t want to go alone anyway). I had no idea why I wanted to see that concert so badly; I liked them both, but I wasn’t a huge fan of either. But Stevie Ray’s death pushed me to listen more to his music, and I was flabbergasted. The amount of raw talent and charisma he possessed is stunning, even today. He is still kind of unbelievable. I understand how stunning he must have been coming out of Austin, TX in the early 80s. Why David Bowie hired him to play on Let’s Dance after seeing SRV play at the Montreux Festival (that’s SRV on the opening of “Modern Love”). Why everyone hailed him as the Savior of the Blues.
This clip is from his appearance on Austin City Limits in 1989. It shows Stevie Ray Vaughan at his absolute peak. He was sober for the first time in many years, vital and alive. It’s almost impossible to believe he was dead less than a year later.