Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 10 Greatest Guitar Moments

A soulfully shredding playlist to honor the Texas guitar titan.

Stevie Ray Vaughan departed this world in a tragic firestorm on August 27, 1990.

The Texas blues guitar maestro had just torn it up on stage in East Troy, Wisconsin with his British comrade in six-string-slaying, Eric Clapton. He then boarded a helicopter bound for Chicago that never made it. Stevie Ray was just 35 years old.

The upside of this mammoth loss is that, during his brief time among us, Stevie Ray Vaughan gifted humanity with a treasure trove of electrifying, unmistakably Texan blues-rock barnburners rendered gloriously unique by his supreme talents.

While we’ll always mourn the absence of a genius gone too soon, let’s celebrate the life and work of Stevie Ray Vaughan now with a countdown of his ten most titanic guitar moments.

  1. “Love Struck Baby”

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    Album: Texas Flood (1983)

    It all begins here. “Love Struck Baby” kicks off Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut LP, Texas Flood, with two-minutes, 19-seconds of old school, Chuck-Berry-esque rock-and-roll reeling that’s suddenly rendered unique once the lead guitar slinger explodes into his signature licks. With straightforwardness that can sound deceptively simple, Stevie Ray sneaks in an announcement that a new vanguard of blues-rock might has arrived.

  2. “Life by the Drop”

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    Album: The Sky Is Crying (1991)

    The very last track on the very last Stevie Ray Vaughan album stands among rock’s most bittersweet farewells. “Life by the Drop” is a mesmerizing acoustic showcase for what Stevie could do by simply picking up a guitar—even one that wasn’t plugged in—and singing his heart out while his syncopated fretwork tells the story of the whole world.

  3. “Crossfire”

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    Album: In Step (1989)

    “Crossfire” lays a foundation first by way of the incomparable rhythms of Double Trouble, with Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums. Stevie Ray steps in from there with a whirlwind of a lead, bolstered by the further firepower of horns led by trumpeter Darrell Leonard and saxophonist Joe Sublett. Amidst that level of musicianship barreling at full-steam, SRV’s playing really makes you feel as though you’re caught in the maelstrom of the title.

  4. “Rude Mood”

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    Album: Texas Flood (1983)

    On “Rude Mood,” Stevie Ray Vaughan taps into rock guitar’s first generation of blistering brawlers on the order of Link Wray and Duane Eddy, then hurls their sound and structure into a presence all his own. The rousing rave-up is a 4/4 time blues shuffle backed by 264 blazing beats per minute, and it lasts a highly appropriate four-minutes, 40-seconds.

  5. “Texas Flood”

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    Album: Texas Flood

    Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble bring modern heat to Larry Davis’s 1958 slow blues showpiece, imbuing its almost ballad-like pacing with booming undercurrents of authoritative wisdom and witty inventiveness.

  6. “Tightrope”

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    Album: In Step (1989)

    In keeping with its title, SRV’s guitar sound on “Tightrope” is all about constriction and uncoiling. The mid-tempo rocker rises from up from a typically standard Double Trouble base, on top of which Stevie Ray struts, holds back, and then lets loose with a succession of solo licks that will scorch for all eternity.

  7. “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”

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    Album: Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984)

    Only a genius or a madman would attempt to take on one of Jimi Hendrix’s most challenging signature mind-blowers. Stevie Ray Vaughan had already displayed ample evidence of the former, and on “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” he plays with the fury of the latter. Not only does SRV match Jimi note for note throughout the anthem’s incendiary opening, he launches the song in new directions that, when Stevie plays them, seem inevitable from the point on which Hendrix wrapped up the original.

  8. “Couldn’t Stand the Weather”

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    Album: Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984)

    Double Trouble conjures quite the storm during the opening moments of “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.” Gray skies loom in their beats and rhythms, setting the stage for Stevie Ray’s tsunami of six-string thunder and lightning. When SRV’s guitar finally starts to rain (and reign), the whole song teems with transcendence.

  9. “Say What!”

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    Album: Soul to Soul (1985)

    After making so many musical motifs born in the 1940s through the 1960s his own, Stevie Ray Vaughan blasts off to the wah-wah ’70s on “Say What!” While rooted in a traditional groove, SRV steps on that wah pedal and rockets off into the wild sonic yonder.

  10. “Pride and Joy”

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    Album: Texas Flood (1983)

    Stevie Ray Vaughan’s signature song is also the perfect one-stop showcase for his utter mastery of his guitar’s possibilities. His rhythmic playing is flawless, his timing is beyond impeccable, and when he unleashes a solo, the whole history of blues-rock rushes through him and transforms into a sound and a style that no one else can ever claim. “Pride and Joy” could not be more perfectly titled.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).