How the guitar legend’s debut set the scene for a landmark career
Stevie Ray Vaughan would make a number of landmark albums in his lifetime.
His sophomore set Couldn’t Stand the Weather, and later, In Step being two of his more obvious examples. Yet it was his dynamic debut Texas Flood, released on June 13, 1983, that established the template for everything that would follow.
Viewed in retrospect, it’s clear Vaughan’s work influenced any number of artists that followed, but in many ways his imaginative riffing seemed to suggest that Jimi Hendrix was his prime predecessor, at least as far as technique was concerned The track titled “Lenny” affirms that impression, with Vaughan alternating between jazz phrasings and his searing solos, a style that recalled Hendrix’s more emotive ballads like “The Wind Cried Mary” in particular.
That said, Vaughan’s combination of soaring fretwork and his muscular drive and determination arguably elevated his efforts beyond that of any previous southern blues-based forebear — Johnny Winter and Gregg Allman being the possible exceptions. Indeed, certain songs on that debut disc — the album’s first two singles, “Love Struck” and the ever-popular “Pride and Joy” — set the standard for a blues rock amalgam that Vaughan formalized early on. The latter track in particular still ranks as a singular stand-out, and one that remains one of the best known songs in Vaughan’s entire repertoire.
While the entire album held true to that template, Vaughan’s devotion to the blues was never far from the surface. The album title itself was borrowed from an early blues recording by Larry Davis that was originally released in 1958. It’s notable then that while Vaughan was establishing a specific cross-over approach, he was still taking his cues from selected archival offerings. There were several notable covers that hinted at that musical mindset — Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tell Me,” the R&B standard “Testify,” recorded by the Isley Brothers, and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” a uniquely classic composition by Buddy Guy. In addition, the album also included “Dirty Pool,” a rare co-write by Vaughan and fellow blues enthusiast Doyle Bramhall.
It’s somewhat ironic that the first artist who took note of Vaughan early on was Jackson Browne, as opposed to anyone else who operated in the same sphere. Browne was intrigued when Vaughan and his band Double Trouble — a trio consisting of Vaughan on vocals and guitar, Chris Layton on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass — played the Montreal Jazz Festival their 1982. He was so impressed, that he offered the band the use of his L.A. recording studio, an invitation that was eagerly and gratefully accepted. The tape was then shared with veteran producer John Hammond, who, in turn, passed it on to Greg Geller, the head of A&R at Epic Records. From that point on, a recording contract was all but assured.
Clearly then, the confidence paid off. The album not only found favor with blues aficionados, but also with hard rockers as well, thanks to the power and passion of the performances. The taste-makers were also suitably impressed, with the track “Texas Flood” garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Performance and “Rude Mood” getting its own nomination as Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
The dichotomy between styles became a Vaughan landmark.
Sadly, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s career came to an abrupt and tragic end with the fatal helicopter crash that took his life on August 27, 1990. Yet 40 years later, Texas Flood remains one of the most daring debuts of the modern era, an album that’s stood the test of time and ensured Vaughan’s standing as one of the most beloved and admired guitarists in the entire blues rock idiom. His ability to fuse the two genres still sets a standard that other guitarists emulate today.