August 27, 1990 was my 22nd birthday.
I had just graduated from college and was living with my then-wife in a little one-bedroom apartment. I was looking for steady work in my field, psychology, while I explored graduate school options. I would get up every morning, turn on the local Classic Rock station, and eat some breakfast.
Well, the local station didn’t play Stevie Ray very often. No mainstream radio did. But I was a fan and my Stevie Ray Vaughan cassettes were in heavy rotation in the car. But that morning, as soon as I switched on the radio they were in the middle of “Life Without You.”
“YESSSS!” I thought. I might have even made a fist and said it out loud. They NEVER play Stevie Ray! And the first thing I hear on my birthday is THIS! I love it!
Then the DJ started talking.
“Stevie Ray Vaughan, along with members of Eric Clapton’s entourage, died earlier this morning in a helicopter crash after a concert in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. We’ll report more details as they become available.”
This can’t be right. Check the TV.
Good Morning America. The Today Show. Both reporting the same thing.
Then the tears started. I’ve missed him and new music from him every day since.
He was bigger than life. He’d made the cover of the guitar magazines several times while he was alive. While he wasn’t huge on the charts, the radio, or MTV, he was huge among musicians and real music fans. His music was a rising tide that lifted the whole blues music scene with him. Teenage kids were buying Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Albert King, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Copeland, AC Reed, Lonnie Mack, Hendrix, Roy Buchanan, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny “Guitar” Watson…. hell, ANYTHING on Alligator Records. Because they fell in love with the blues. Because of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Because of this force of nature from Austin, Texas who dressed funny, wore interesting hats, and had the most beat-to-hell Strat you’d ever seen and played it like no one you’d ever heard.
In the age of Duran Duran, the Smiths, Madonna, U2, REM, and Prince? When members of the E Street Band bought SYNTHS? A Blues Revival in the 80s?
An underground blues scene had been building for a bit, but Stevie brought it to heights no one imagined. Local blues festivals became a thing. Public and Community radio stations began programming blues more heavily than before. And a new generation of musicians and fans discovered the power of the blues. And all the living greats cried.
On August 27, 1990.