Music History

Stevie Ray Vaughan Changed Texas Music and Now He's Finally Getting His Due

We are beyond lucky in Texas when it comes to musicians. Whatever it is about the climate, weather or mix of folks, Texas has played home to legendary artists like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Janis Joplin and, of course, blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. There were, no doubt, plenty of Texas bluesmen who paved the way for Vaughan's tragically short career. But it was the shy and shaggy-haired Vaughan, a Jimi Hendrix-obsessed guitar prodigy from Oak Cliff, who went down in history as arguably one of the most talented and musically influential artists across all genres.

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Now, 25 years after his death, Vaughan will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend. After years of lobbying from fans and critics alike, the establishment now sees fit to induct Vaughan into a pretty solid class, but many argue that this honor should have happened long ago. On Saturday, Vaughan will be inducted alongside Bill Withers, Joan Jett, Lou Reed and (ugh) Green Day.

Vaughan's struggles with drug and alcohol addiction landed him in rehab in the mid-'80s, then he got sober and resurrected his career. Shortly thereafter, he was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990. Outside of Texas, Vaughan is probably just another artist who died too soon. But in his home state, he is widely considered to be one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, and maybe the artist who has had the most influence over Texas' incredibly diverse and vibrant music scene.

In 2014, Gary Clark Jr., an impressive guitarist and artist in his own right, told Texas Monthly, "You can still walk up and down Sixth Street here in Austin and hear a bunch of young guitarists playing Stevie Ray Vaughan licks." Rolling Stone named Vaughan the 12th greatest guitarist of all time. Vaughan was also a session guitarist on David Bowie and Stevie Wonder albums, helping bring the Texas blues sound to a more mainstream audience. His blend of rock, blues and a little Texas twang has since become ubiquitous in rock, Americana and country music.

When you look to today's Texas music, it is undeniable that Vaughan is still influential. Guitarists like Cody Canada and Mike McClure have clearly taken Vaughan's unparalleled guitar playing to heart, incorporating it into their own music. The "harder" elements in country music have always come from Texas, and you can thank Vaughan (among others) for the omnipresence of electric guitars in Texas music. Even if artists here don't directly credit Vaughan for influencing their sound, it is easy to hear in a wide array of Texas tunes.

Outside of Texas, Vaughan helped create a renewed interest in the blues in the 1980s. In a time when keytars were more popular than Stratocasters, Vaughan's raw and authentic tunes were the perfect alternative. After the blockbuster release of Texas Flood, more blues acts started to emerge, Buddy Guy started making records again and the whole world was paying attention to this new blues phenomenon. Fast forward to 2015 and look at artists like Ryan Bingham and Jack White, among others, and it's clear that this influence continues.

We may love Willie Nelson for his endearing ponytails, pot habit and all those incredible songs that he wrote, but the legend of Vaughan, arguably the most influential Texas artist of all time, is too much for even the Red Headed Stranger to eclipse. Maybe it's because he died too soon. Or maybe it's because the music really was that incredible.

For Texans, the induction of Vaughan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is sort of bittersweet. We're reminded of all that lost potential, all those records and incredible guitar riffs that we've missed out on. At the same time, though, there is some catharsis in finally seeing one of the most talented guitarists in history get the recognition that he deserves.

As the world celebrates Stevie Ray Vaughan's contributions to American music, Texans are thinking only one thing: We told you so. It shouldn't have taken the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 15 years to honor Vaughan this way, but we never fully appreciate genius until it's long gone.


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Amy McCarthy