On August 27, 1990, Texan blues-rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan, better known to his fans as SRV, passed away in a helicopter crash. This was a man who had conquered his demons just a few years prior to his tragic death, coming back stronger than ever and becoming well-known to fans of different musical genres. And it all had to end so quickly in a tragic accident that nobody could have foreseen, but could have nonetheless been prevented.
The son of an asbestos worker and a secretary, Stevie Ray Vaughan came of age in the ‘50s and ‘60s and got into music thanks to his older brother Jimmie. The Vaughan brothers grew up on rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, as well as blues giants like Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Stevie Ray dropped out of high school early in his senior year, and moved to Austin, Texas with Blackbird, one of his earliest bands. Before forming Double Trouble in 1978, Vaughan played with several Austin-area bands including the Nightcrawlers and Paul Ray and the Cobras. It was the latter band that gave Vaughan his first opportunity at singing lead vocals, when their lead vocalist came down with a throat problem.
Double Trouble would turn out to be Vaughan’s most enduring band, and remain active to this day. Originally starting as a four-piece, the classic Double Trouble lineup remains the three-piece setup of Vaughan on guitar and vocals, Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums. The band got their break in 1983 when their debut album Texas Flood was nominated for the Best Traditional Blues Recording Grammy. The album spawned a few instant classics, including the title track and arguably the best-known Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble song, “Pride and Joy.”
The 1984 follow-up Couldn’t Stand the Weather was another success, if not as memorable as Texas Flood. Shortly thereafter, Vaughan celebrated his 30th birthday with a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. A third album, Soul to Soul, was released in 1985, and the highlights of several 1985 and 1986 concerts made up the fourth Double Trouble release, Live Alive. Unfortunately, SRV was unraveling at this point, as his drug and alcohol consumption was reaching fever pitch. Vaughan’s prodigious appetite for booze and cocaine led to health problems, and after a nearly-fatal episode in Europe, he finally decided enough was enough. Vaughan underwent a month’s drug rehab and upon release, he renounced all his vices, including cigarettes, and went right back to touring.
In Step was SRV and Double Trouble’s fourth studio album, released June 1989. Here, Vaughan was at the peak of his creativity, clean and sober and writing songs that only a man who had been to hell and back could write. Little did anyone know this would be the last Double Trouble album with Vaughan, or that Stevie Ray and Jimmie’s collaborative album Family Style (released posthumously in September 1990) would be the last SRV album ever.
Vaughan and Double Trouble had just come off two concerts in East Troy, Wisconsin, opening for Eric Clapton, another one of SRV’s boyhood heroes. Four helicopters carrying all the musicians and crew had taken off on that fateful August day, pushing on despite a thick fog. One of those helicopters carried Vaughan and three Clapton aides would crash just a few minutes after takeoff, killing everyone on board. Vaughan was only 35 years old.