Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
Stevie Ray Vaughan
There have been many blues pretenders who've come and gone, but Stevie Ray Vaughan was the real deal. Calling Stevie a guitarist is like calling a tricked-out custom bagger a motorcycle-it doesn't do justice. With wide-ranging musical influences, from Albert King to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie paid his dues on the Texas bar circuit and was eventually "discovered" by both David Bowie (he played on David's Let's Dance album) and Jackson Browne (who offered him the use of a studio). Having played with many of his heroes, from Buddy Guy to Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray single-handedly launched a blues resurgence and would go on to win awards up the wazoo. This double CD set, released in 2002, is noteworthy for the fact it compiles his best studio works on one CD and some of his best live performances on the other, including "Texas Food," "Cold Shot," "Couldn't Stand the Weather," "The Things (That) I Used to Do," and his masterful cover of Jimmy Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return)."
A little more than 20 years ago, Stevie perished in a tragic helicopter crash after playing a gig that had Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and his brother, Jimmy Vaughan, jamming together with him. Stevie was quoted as saying in one of his last interviews: "You never can tell what kinda turns a gig's gonna take, but I try to play the best that I possibly can every night. And besides, I would hate to get caught playing my last gig not trying, you know what I mean? If it was the last one, it sure would be a drag if I didn't try." There's a lesson in there somewhere.
Flashback | Album of the Month
Howlin' Wolf Moanin' in the Moonlight
Howlin' Wolf Chess
In a perfect afterlife, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf are all in heaven, the only dudes up there who wear black and ride big bad-ass bikes. God, known to have a sense of humor (and who probably likes a nip of Scotch every now and then), occasionally sends them down to hell to play a little whoop ass on the devil. Of course God doesn't like guns, so they carry big black baseball bats to keep residents of hell, such as Hitler and Atilla the Hun, on their toes. The leader of this celestial biker gang is Howlin' Wolf.
Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf, was named after Chester Arthur, the 23rd president of the U.S. Large in size and voice, he learned the blues from the great delta bluesman Charlie Patton. At the famous West Memphis, Arkansas, radio station KWEM, Wolf would eventually unleash his own sonic jihad upon an unsuspecting public. Discovered by Sam Phillips, Wolf eventually found himself in Chicago in 1953, thanks to the vagaries of recording contracts back then. He had a new band (featuring the great Hubert Sumlin) and a new deal with Chess Records.
This album is basically a compilation of his first two albums for Chess, which rank as some of the best music ever committed to tape, vinyl, CD, files, etc. (Note: There's tons of Howlin' Wolf recordings out there, much of it from dubious sources. Spending money on these is like buying bike parts made in China, so buyer beware. Get the Chess stuff first-it's all great!). Wolf's vocals are menacingly gruff, full of tortured heartbreak and pain; the epitome of what a blues singer should sound like. He stomps his way through songs that could make grown men lock up their women, small children, and pets. Yes, you can listen to his music without drinking, but hard liquor-or loud motorcycles-makes it truly enjoyable. Naturally everyone from the Stones (who featured him on their first U.S. tour), Cream, the Yardbirds, and countless other rock icons have covered his songs. "Wang Dang Doodle," "Spoonful," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "How Many More Years," and others, many of which were collaborations with the legendary Willie Dixon, are national treasures. Let's see Justin Bieber top that.
If it's too cold to ride, go find yourself a fireplace, a chair, and some libation. Plop this CD into the player and prepare to be entertained. Listen and repeat. You'll eventually find yourself singing along and howlin' at the moon.