Stevie Ray Vaughan, blues musician and guitar legend, was born in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas on October 3, 1954, to Jim and Martha Vaughan. Stevie's exposure to music began in his childhood, as he watched his big brother, Jimmie, play guitar. Stevie's fascination with the blues drove him to teach himself to play the guitar before he was an adolescent.
By the time Vaughan was in high school, he was staying up all night, playing guitar in clubs in Deep Ellum in Dallas. In his sophomore year he enrolled in an experimental arts program at Southern Methodist University for artistically gifted high school students, but the program did not motivate him to stay in school, and he dropped out before graduation in order to play music full-time.
By 1972, at the age of seventeen, Stevie moved to Austin, in an attempt to become involved in the music scene. Over the next few years he slept on pool tables and couches in the back of clubs and collected bottles to earn money for new guitar strings. He joined the Nightcrawlers, a blues band formed by Doyle Bramhall with Marc Benno. Doyle Bramhall (1949–2011), who went on to secure his own reputation as a renowned drummer and singer–songwriter, had performed with Stevie’s brother Jimmie in Dallas in their band the Chessmen, and the two later organized the band Texas Storm in Austin. In the Nightcrawlers, Stevie Vaughan played guitar and, impressed by Bramhall’s gravelly soul vocals, adopted that singing style as his own. Bramhall would write or co-write a number of songs that Vaughan would later record, including “Dirty Pool,” “Change It,” “The House is Rockin’,” and “Life by the Drop.”
By 1975 Vaughan was playing with another Austin group, Paul Ray and the Cobras. With the opening of Antone’s blues club later that year, he also found an ally in club owner Clifford Antone. Vaughan’s performance with guitarist Albert King onstage at Antone’s, for example, earned him the respect of the blues legend. Recognition outside of Austin, however, eluded him. Vaughan left the Cobras and by the late 1970s was in a group that included Lou Ann Barton, W. C. Clark, and others and was known as Triple Threat. This group eventually evolved into Double Trouble, with Barton, bassist Jackie Newhouse, and drummer Chris Layton. Barton left the band, and Tommy Shannon replaced Newhouse. Keyboardist Reese Wynans came on board in 1985.
By the early 1980s the group had built a solid following in Texas and was beginning to attract the attention of well-established musicians like Mick Jagger, who in 1982 invited Vaughan and the band to play at a private party in New York City. That same year Double Trouble received an invitation to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. They were the first band in the history of the festival to play without having a major record contract. The performance was seen by David Bowie and Jackson Browne, and Stevie gained even more acclaim as a talented and rising young musician. Browne invited Vaughan to his Los Angeles studio for a demo session, at which Stevie and Double Trouble recorded some tracks for what eventually became his 1983 debut album, Texas Flood. Bowie had Vaughan play lead guitar on his album Let's Dance.
Vaughan's fame immediately soared. The band signed a record contract with CBS/Epic Records and came to the attention of veteran blues and rock producer John Hammond, Sr. Texas Flood received a North American Rock Radio Awards nomination for Favorite Debut Album, and Guitar Player Magazine Reader's Poll voted Stevie Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitarist for 1983. A track off the album also received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental performance.
Vaughan's subsequent albums met with increased popularity and critical attention. Double Trouble followed Texas Flood with Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984), Live Alive (1985), and Soul to Soul (1986). All of the albums went gold and captured various Grammy nominations in either the blues or rock categories. Throughout the 1980s Vaughan and his band also became consistent nominees and winners of the Austin Chronicle's music awards and Guitar Player Magazine's reader's polls. In 1984, at the National Blues Foundation Awards, Vaughan became the first white man to win Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year. At the Grammys that year he shared in the Best Traditional Blues honors for his work on Blues Explosion, a compilation album of various artists.
Although he rapidly gained prestige and success in the music world, Stevie also lived the stereotypical life of a rock-and-roll star, full of alcohol and drug abuse. On his 1986 European tour he collapsed and eventually checked into a rehabilitation center in Georgia. He left the hospital sober and committed to the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Following his recovery, he released his fifth album, In Step, in 1989. It won him a second Grammy, this time for Best Contemporary Blues Recording. In 1990 Vaughan collaborated with Jimmie Vaughan, his brother and founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, on Family Style, which also included their friend and musical colleague Doyle Bramhall on drums. The album was released after Stevie's death. This last album brought Stevie's career total of Grammys to four. After his death Epic records released two more albums of his work, The Sky is Crying (1991) and In the Beginning (1992). The Sky is Crying went on to win a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Stevie married Lenny Bailey in 1980, and they divorced in 1986, when he was at the low point of his struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. At the time of his death, he had a girlfriend, Janna Lapidus. Vaughan died on August 27, 1990, in a helicopter crash on the way to Chicago from a concert in Alpine Valley, East Troy, Wisconsin. The location of the concert was difficult to reach, so many performers stayed in Chicago and flew in before the show. Dense fog contributed to the pilot's flying the helicopter into the side of a man-made ski mountain. All on board were killed instantly. More than 1,500 people, including industry giants such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Wonder, attended Stevie's memorial service in Dallas. He is buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in South Dallas.
Governor Ann Richards proclaimed October 3, 1991, as "Stevie Ray Vaughan Day." The city of Austin erected a memorial statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan on November 21, 1993, by Town Lake (renamed Lady Bird Lake), near the site of his last Austin concert. On May 11, 1995, musicians, including B. B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Double Trouble, filmed "Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan" for Austin City Limits. The PBS program also released a posthumous video titled Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live From Austin, Texas, which contained excerpts from Vaughan's two previous appearances on the show. From 1995 through 2007 Sony Music issued several Vaughan and Double Trouble albums, including a box set, live performances, and previously unreleased material. In 2000 Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. He is also in the Houston Institute for Culture's Texas Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial in 2010. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were inaugural inductees into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame in 2014. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.