Stevie Ray Vaughn – why the blues?

by Frank Muller

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As one has probably already figured out, I am a native Texan. One of the characteristics of Texans that I think may baffle some people with regards to the culture here is that they are not sure if it is Southern or Western.

I think if forced to answer that question my response would be it is “both and”. That is, it is clear that Texas is southern in terms of geography and its’ general climate, that its people err towards honoring their word and for most there is a sense that the Church is a place to be on Sunday.

What is not so truly southern are the various Texas dialects (there are five of them at a minimum). The East Texas twang, the South Texas staccato, the North Texas fast talk, the Valley Texican, and the West Texas drawl. It does not take most natives to know which part of Texas the native speaker was raised in.

The diet is not so southern as well as it leans strongly towards a blend of Mexican and Germanic and Cajun food types and cuisines. The Gulf Coast Cajun and seafood spices, the South Texas Tex- Mex, the Hill Country BBQ, and the East Texas fried catfish, and the grilled meats of West Texas.

Texas is also Western which means we favor independence, wide open spaces, and a spirit of adventure. This combination of Southern and Western in my view explains much of the Texas native culture.

The “and” is something that is spiritual, and gospel deeply formed by hardships, suffering, and injustices. Whether it was the War with Mexico for rights that were promised under the Mexican Constitution but unilaterally revoked by a dictator.

It was the brutal fight between settlers and the native Indians that scarred and terrorized both sides. It was the bloodshed of the War between the States and the occupation that came to be called Reconstruction. It was the injustice of slavery, and the Jim Crow laws that flowed from it whilst a people oppressed prayed for salvation.

This mix of Southern and Western, immigrant and local, Mexican and African, independence and adventure formed a people and its’ character into Texans. Now, all of those people lay claim appropriately to this unique brand and identity that no matter where one travels in the world, people know about Texas.

At the heart of a native Texan is the music of the Gospel sung in small churches by the faithful. It was the blues sung and played that fused these influences into western swing, country gospel, and mixed blues with rock. These sounds once heard uniquely speak of Texas.

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, George Strait, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Tanya Tucker, Ronnie Dunn, Charley Pride and I could keep going and going all influenced and created Western Swing, and fused rock, and fiddle-based blues.

Rock and Blues bands like ZZ Top, Barry White, Don Henley, Johnny Rodriguez, Selena and Kelly Clarkson. Once again, I could list hundreds of these artists who flowed from the state of Texas.

All of this is a wandering way of getting to Stevie Ray Vaughn. This artist blended and fused all of the above into an iconic chord and rhythm structure that has yet to be replicated. In addition, his voice fits his music in that it could evoke the soul of a musician who would be playing the same music in any bar that would have him the same way even if it was for just drinks and a meal.

For someone who was in Austin, Texas in the early 80’s there was no other musician in my mind that represented the unique nature of Texas both then and now. Southern and Western, gospel, blues, country and rock are flowed through the fingers of a guitar legend that was taken from us way too early.

If you have not heard the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn, give it a go. Turn it up, tap your foot to the bass beat and drink an ice-cold beer in the summer heat. That is who this artist was. There was no costume, no act, no stage persona. There was a man who created music that soothed his soul and for that we should be grateful.

It is a blessing to see a human being display a unity of life. His work was as a musician and singer. His life was as the same. There was no difference between the singer and the song. Somewhere in all that, is a lesson for us all.

May Peace be with us all.

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