In the late eighties, living in Capital City, I discovered a local radio show, later syndicated, called The Blues Room. There were a few radio programs, mostly talk radio, that I followed in my youth in KC, but The Blues Room was the only musical radio program I ever followed devoutly. I think my devotion partly arose from the fact that it played on Sunday nights from nine to eleven, a time of the week when I was typically home and inclined to listen to music. Sunday night is that last gasp of freedom before Monday morning stampedes life, and I was usually in a mood to make the most of my freedom to indulge my desires for artistry. The Blues Room was the perfect tonic as I put the words to rest.
I had been listening to B. B. King with intense affection from a younger time, so I had some appreciation for the blues before my relationship with The Blues Room began, but my education in the blues started here. The musical craft, history and people of the blues began to take shape in my mind. Muddy Waters. Howling Wolf. Etta James. Robert Johnson. Koko Taylor. I learned to love them all.
Two new names, however, were added to my vocabulary. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Robert Cray. RC appealed to me, in part, because I am a singer and he plays a blues that is immensely singable. I’ve written several stories based on the plots of RCs songs. He enjoys the unreliable narrator, the use of perspective to tell a story. I can appreciate that.
The real blow to my mind, however, was Stevie Ray. I had been a huge fan of Santana since the mid seventies and there was a connection, musically, between the two. Live Alive had been recently released. I found a copy and played it until the grooves cut through the album. That is one of the inherent problems with vinyl. Every play scrapes away some of the musical detail. A virgin record may be the ultimate in analog recording, but after years and years of listening, hardly any of that perfection remains. Never play a record album you love.
I saw SRV play live at Merriweather Post in suburban Maryland in 1988. It was a beautiful summer night and no one was there. We sat on the grass, about twenty yards from the pavilion. No one sat behind us. Half the seats in the pavilion were empty. The guitar sang into the summer night.
When it came time for me to leave Capital City for a less costly, crowded, competitive part of the country, I decided on Texas. If SRV can be from Texas, the lone star state was cool enough for me. I have a flat-brimmed black hat with leather trim and a hanging feather. I call it my Stevie Ray Vaughn hat. It helps me feel closer to the man.
I was there for the drug collapse and the rehab. I bought every CD with enthusiasm. I was especially warmed by his album with his brother. Everything was back on track and sounding good. Then he took a helicopter.
Don’t do helicopters. Helicopters kill. Stevie plays with the angels, now.