Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27: Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Texas Flood"

Artist: Stevie Ray Vaughan
Song: "Texas Flood"
Album: Texas Flood
Year: 1983

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Much like similar trends within culture as a whole, one can see various "old" forms of music reinventing themselves decades later, as new audiences discover the beauty and brilliance of a certain style.  Though they are often relabeled by the industry (as when punk was re-termed as "grunge"), the true roots of the sound cannot be denied, and it is often within these musical rebirths that some of the finest moments in the genres' history occur.  While one can easily make the case that it was completely unexpected, when the classic sound of electric blues suddenly became massively popular during the 1980's, it could be almost entirely attributed to the efforts and talents of a single individual.  Standing today as one of the most iconic figures for both his emotive singing as well as his absolutely unparalleled guitar skills, there are few musicians as important to the development of music as Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Though his name is now far beyond legendary, the fact that his talents were in such form on his 1983 debut, Texas Flood, served as almost a warning shot for the revitalization of the blues sound, as well as the new rise of the guitar virtuoso.  Bringing a distinctive style and tone to his performances, he remains one of the most instantly recognizable players in history, and there is perhaps no better summary of Stevie Ray Vaughan's extraordinary talents than what one can find in his 1983 cover of Larry Davis', "Texas Flood."

From the moment that "Texas Flood" begins, the roots of the song are without question, and yet it is the "slow burn" that Stevie Ray Vaughan perfected that sets it far apart from almost any other blues song in history.  Among all of the other so-called "guitar gods," Vaughan may have the most distinctive tone of all, and there is never any mistaking his soulful, sliding sound.  In many ways, "Texas Flood" is far more about the instrumental than the vocals, as the level of emotion that Vaughn conveys at every turn quickly pushes him far beyond nearly all of his peers, as he encompasses the true spirit of the blues in an era so far removed from the origins of the sound.  It was due to this performance that other musicians who "dabbled" in blues were exposed for their shortcomings, and there are few bluesmen of any era that can complete with the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Yet it is also the way that Vaughan gels so perfectly with his bandmates that make the overall impact of "Texas Flood" so great, and one cannot overlook the efforts of his rhythm section.  The slow, steady work from bassist Tommy Shannon is nothing short of fantastic, as he digs the groove deeper and deeper at every turn.  This approach serves as an ideal compliment to the drumming from Chris Layton,  and there has rarely been as superb or moody a drum performance as one experiences all throughout "Texas Flood."

However, while there is no question that the focus of "Texas Flood" is this stellar musical arrangement, the song would not have achieved such heights had it not been for the captivating vocal performance from Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Much like his guitar sound, Vaughan possesses a voice that is so distinctive that one cannot help but be drawn in by his singing.  The level of soul and emotion that he brings to every word matches the similar sentiments of his guitar, and it is the interplay between these two elements that vaults him to such a revered status.  On every line, Vaughan holds nothing back, and it is this raw, gritty tone that again links him to the earliest blues players, as well as sets him miles apart from any other signer of his era.  It is also the unique vocal sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan that makes his rendition of "Texas Flood" the definitive take, as he is able to extract the very essence of Larry Davis' words, and makes the song his own in a manner that remains unrivaled.  Yet it is also the fact that Davis' lyrics were so simple, so pure to the blues that make the song nothing short of perfect, and one can easily tell just how close Vaughan could relate to every line.  The amount of love and longing that one can find at every turn is absolutely fantastic, and it is the soulful, slightly gravely tone with which Vaughan sings that pushes this rendition to a point where it eclipsed being "just" a blues song and stands today as a moment that appeals to fans from every musical persuasion.

Though both his guitar playing and singing cannot be mistaken, there is an actual "tangible" element at play on Stevie Ray Vaughan's rendition of "Texas Flood" that sets it apart from other versions.  The song was originally written to be played in the key of 'G," but Vaughan was notorious for using unorthodox tunings, and this version actually sounds as if it is playing in F sharp due to the way that Vaughan set the strings.  This purposeful alteration, combined with a somewhat uncommon musical timing (12/8), makes "Texas Flood" wonderfully distinctive from every angle, and there is simply no other blues song that can compare to this perfect recording.  The overall impact and significance of Vaughan's take on "Texas Flood" as been reaffirmed over the years, as it has appeared in a number of films and television shows, as well as video games and other forms of media.  Furthermore, the song still manages to find consistent radio airplay, and while another of the songs off of Texas Flood found better commercial success, there is no question that the title track remains the signature moment in the career of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Achieving musical perfection on an unparalleled level, the guitar work here is without question some of the most iconic in history, and the way that this combines with the unforgettable vocal delivery of Stevie Ray Vaughan almost instantly makes his 1983 recording of "Texas Flood" one of the most stunning and outright beautiful moments in all of recorded history.

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