Out Here

Vaughan, not forgotten
Greatest Hits
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Epic Records

A best-of that kicks off with a previously unreleased cover of a Beatles song that should have stayed that way--that is, unreleased; that is, a Beatles song--this is the marketing gimmick for those who only know and only love Stevie Ray Vaughan the singles artist. "Pride and Joy," "Crossfire," "Couldn't Stand the Weather," "Cold Shot," "Tightrope," "The House is Rockin'," "Texas Flood," etc. were songs whose fame transcended their albums of origin; they were the surprising hits, the blues songs that made a pop star out of a gawky Oak Cliff boy, and even now they're in constant rotation on local rock radio stations. But five years after Vaughan met his Maker in that helicopter crash, they're also final proof that Vaughan was appreciated in life but misunderstood in death.

By leaving off two of his finest moments ("Riviera Paradise," the mood-jazz In Step closer that hinted at the undiscovered future, and the solo acoustic "Life By the Drop" at the end of 1991's posthumous The Sky is Crying) and subbing them out with one of the label's few remaining vault tracks ("Taxman," with Vaughan inexplicably growling his way through the blues-jam throwaway), Epic has reduced Vaughan to a two-dimensional bluesman with great flash but little flesh. Certainly Vaughan was the deserved guitar hero who, for a brief moment, made the blues a viable commercial product--he resurrected the careers of Buddy Guy and Lonnie Mack and John Lee Hooker (so those men say), brought the blues into the arenas, made it popular without making it pop. But his genius as a guitarist, like Hendrix's, transcended the genre when he transcended the genre.

Greatest Hits pays no attention to Vaughan's leaps outside the Freddie King-Jimi Hendrix-Aaron "T-Bone" Walker-Buddy Guy influence, painting him not as a revolutionary but as an extraordinarily talented product of the sound of dozens of men. In those moments of inspiration, when Vaughan wasn't showing off his technique and glamorizing the seedy sound, he created powerful music and was ultimately an album artist whose hits belong in a bigger context: In Step was a final testament to new-found sobriety; Soul to Soul brought the rhythm into his blues; The Sky is Crying melted the influences and scraps into gold; Family Style was the brotherly showdown that ended in an amazing draw. Greatest Hits reminds us only that he was a great guitarist with a good voice, a blues artist who played loud enough, fast enough, big enough to appeal to purists and arena-rockers alike. Which might be good enough for some, but it doesn't do the man justice. Not by the longest shot.

--Robert Wilonsky


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