Today, we continue our list of guitarists more deserving of accolades better than Hendrix. By now, you should know the reasons for this list. The short version is that folks give Hendrix credit for being the greatest guitarist ever – and they’re wrong. There’s no nice way to put it, they’re just wrong. In fact, they couldn’t possibly be more wrong – and I intend to prove it.
In guitar legend, there’s a story of a young person (usually a man) who wants to be a great guitarist. This young guitarist goes down to the crossroads, usually at midnight on the night of a full moon, and meets a man there. That man gives them the ability to play guitar like a legend but the price is the soul of the young guitarist.
This next guitarist has been to those crossroads – except he wasn’t there to learn to play guitar. He was there collecting souls and making guitar legends. This next guitarist is as much a legend as any other guitarist on this list and belongs on many lists, including this one.
Without further ado, I introduce our seventh greatest guitarist.
#7 Stevie Ray Vaughan
In January of 1954, the term “Rock ‘n Roll” was used to advertise Alex Freed’s Jubilee.
In February of that same year, Johnny “Guitar” Watson would record “Space Guitar” and pioneer the reverb and feedback effects. (Note, that wasn’t Hendrix. Yeah, people think he was the first – he was not. Notably, his amp already had a reverb setting on it when he got it.)
Around that time, Leo Fender was hard at work designing a new guitar. This guitar would be known as the Stratocaster.
In January of 1954, “Work With Me Annie” was recorded, and is credited with making Rock ‘n Roll popular with teens.
In January of 1954, “Shake Rattle and Roll” was recorded, climbing in the charts and introducing many people to a new sound.
Coincidence? I think not!
See, pretty much exactly 9 months later, in October of 1954, a young Stevie Ray Vaughan was born. The only rational deduction is to conclude that SRV was forged in the irons of rock, created during it’s earliest years, and formed from the very spirit of the music itself.
That’s truly the only plausible reason for a guitar legend such as SRV to have been born. He was created by the very fires of rock, born the same year as the guitar he would play, and created in a time of passion for music. He’s not just a legend, he was the embodiment of sound and music.
Vaughan played the blues, but he played rock-blues. He didn’t just play the blues, he rocked the blues. He took a genre and helped to change the path of that genre of music forever. His influence is still felt, all these years later.
SRV picked up the guitar when he was just 7. He’d emulate and be inspired by his brother Jimmie, who is a fine guitarist in his own right. His brother, Jimmie, played the blues and it’s only natural that Stevie would follow suit.
Eventually, SRV would drop out of high school, move to Austin, Texas, and start performing with a series of other musicians. I think that stands as proof that school is for losers and entirely unnecessary if you’re going to be as awesome as Stevie Ray Vaughan. (I like to think I’m a good influence!)
Rolling Stone Magazine is a bunch of pack mules with hearing problems and no musical taste, but they almost got it right. They placed SRV at #11 on their list of greatest guitarists. Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while. They were pretty close with this one, but still off.
The reality is, all the guitarists on this list could probably be changed to a different position and not much about this list would change. They’re all fantastic guitarists and all of them are better than Hendrix was on his best day – and while they’re on their worst day.
The other day, someone pointed out that I was (of course) a better guitarist than Hendrix was. They claimed that the reason this was true was because Hendrix had died at an earlier age – so of course I’m better than he was. To that, I use SRV as an example of how very, very wrong they are.
Because Fate is a fickle mistress and Stephen a fan of tempting her, he climbed aboard a helicopter on August 27th, 1990. As you can see from the link, that was a horrible choice. At the age of just 35, not much older than Hendrix was when he died, he died in a helicopter accident. I blame the entire State of Wisconsin for his loss.
The point is, age doesn’t matter. This is a guitarist who died young and was a better guitarist than Hendrix ever dreamed of being. I can find 12 year old guitarists who play better than Hendrix ever dreamed of playing. Shit, I can find a 12 year old girl who plays better than Hendrix ever dreamed of playing.
In fact, I may make a list of great guitarists that you’ve probably never heard of – but I’m on a mission with this list and will not be swayed from my mission! This is important! In fact, this is probably my magnum opus. This list is the greatest work I’ve ever produced!
Where was I?
Oh, yes… I was telling you about the legendary guitarist who is named Stevie Ray Vaughan. How about I stop telling you and start showing you? How’s about I start giving some examples to back up my claims?
This first one isn’t actually a very spectacular guitar work. Nope, I just want to show you this song ’cause it’s awesome!
But, we’re here to talk about guitar and, specifically, the guitar legend that is Stevie Ray Vaughan. Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see some better examples, shall we?
There are very few musical compositions that are perfect in every way. Pride and Joy is one of those. There is not one note that’s off. There’s not one timing issue. There’s not one bad choice. There’s not even any better way to say the sentiments expressed by the lyrics. That’s pretty much the greatest, right? Surely, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
It does. Indeed, it does… Tune your ears into this next song. This isn’t the original version, nor is it the only version. It is, however, the best version:
As you can see (or hear) this is the epitome of blues – taken to the point where it rocks. BB King liked to call Stevie by the name of “New Blood.” I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, because he really did bring new blood (and a new sound) to blues.
I’d like to leave you with a bonus example, but there are so many choices that it’s hard to pick just one. I guess I’m going to share him playing an acoustic. As much as we may scoff at MTV, their Unplugged series has some true gems in it.
Don’t let this be the end of your journey into discovering the joy that is SRV. Use this article as a stepping-off-point to jump into learning more about him, hearing more of his music, and experiencing the legendary guitar. Feel free to let me know what you think, what your favorites are, or how you’ve been influenced by his music.
Until next time, shut up and play us a song!