Blues guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990) finished the last gig of his life with a vibrant all-star jam of Sweet Home Chicago with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and brother Jimmie onstage in Wisconsin.
After the show, he headed for Chicago in a helicopter that crashed in dense fog shortly after takeoff. The world lost a musician who played his Fender Stratocaster with unmatched passionate abandon and beautiful reverence.
"I never cry," said blues pioneer John Lee Hooker, "but when I heard the news, I sat down on my bed and cried like a little baby."
Born in Dallas, Stevie Ray began playing the guitar at seven, inspired by two Jimmies-- his brother and Hendrix. By 12, he was playing in bands. "I was gifted with music for a reason and it wasn't just to get famous," Stevie said in 1978.
His gift was astounding. Clapton, considered a guitarist god by many, recalled watching him on stage, thinking, "I have to go on after this guy?"
"He was like a channel," Clapton described. "The purest channels I've ever seen, where everything he sang and played flowed straight down from heaven... (After a half hour of watching him play) I had to leave just to preserve some kind of sanity or confidence in myself."
Music legend B. B. King called playing with Stevie exciting. "His ideas were limitless. He flowed. He was like water, constantly drippin' with rhythm."
Stevie Ray could not read or write sheet music, but played what he was feeling deep inside, bursts of passion and explosive finger-picking. "Sometimes in trying to find things, I'd just stick my hand on the neck. Sometimes it's a surprise and sometimes it becomes what I wanted to hear," he explained. "I visualize... As a result, some of my favorite things to play started as mistakes."
King called Stevie Ray's death a loss to music and mankind: "The only thing that keeps me from crying is knowing the joy he brought to us. I can see his smile right now, him sitting there with his Mexican hat on, going, 'Hey, it's all right.'"
Vibrate to your chord and celebrate the progression of life!