I recently visited the “live music capital of the world” – Austin, Texas – a city drenched in American culture. Although its roots date back to the mid 19th century, in the last 50 years Austin has become well-known as a hotbed for musical artists. From country blues to Texas swing to “South by Southwest,” Austin is a city on the pulse of American music culture.
One of the greatest musical treasures and cultural icons to emerge out of Austin was Stevie Ray Vaughan. From local guitar hero to international blues ambassador, Vaughan is now a legend. Achieving great success with his group, Double Trouble, Vaughan pioneered the sound of modern blues guitar, evolving what Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix had previously made contributions to. But more than just a blues artist, Vaughan crossed over into pop culture. His debut album Texas Flood went double-platinum, and he was a featured musician on David Bowie’s infamous Let’s Dance. SRV continued to make groundbreaking records and give inspirational performances until his early death in a tragic helicopter accident following a show with Eric Clapton. At age 35, SRV made an early departure, leaving behind a legacy that is still shaping the music world today.
Aside from his amazingly innovative and identifiable playing style, SRV is known for his guitar tone. Although he used other guitars, Vaughan is almost exclusively depicted using Fender Stratocasters, most often a 1962/63 model called “Number One” – his favorite. He used “heavy” .12 gauge strings which, like many other blues greats, he tuned down a half step, thus allowing greater flexibility when bending strings. Another crucial element to his distinctive tone was a 40-watt Fender Vibroverb amp, which he often blended with other amps, most notably a 150-watt Dumble. SRV was also a huge proponent of the infamous Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which became a staple of his dirty sound. Fascinated by the endless combinations of all elements of guitar tone, Vaughan created many iconic tones that enthusiasts everywhere are still trying to emulate!
So in a nutshell, Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most innovative guitarists and musicians of his era – a true American musical icon. As you walk the streets of Austin, Texas today, you can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan everywhere – in every club, band, and musician contributing to this musical hub. The echos of his legacy still ring loudly, and his playing continues to inspire generations. Next time you’re in Austin, be sure to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial statue to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural icons, SRV.