in the Right Place at the Right Time
Catching a Stevie Ray Vaughan Concert
the opening scenes from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark? Remember
when that huge rock ball was rolling and thundering toward Indiana Jones?
Did you ever see the movie Twister? Remember when the F-5 at the end
of the movie was roaring and raging through that farm and tearing the
shit out of everything? Think about that a moment and let me tell you
about when I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan.
I have always had a soft spot for the 12-string guitar. They sound so
mystical and otherworldly. If six strings can elevate me to a higher
plane then twelve, especially in the hands of a master, can put me in
the company of angels. Once in a while the gods smile on us, as they
say, and bring those masters to town. Ralph Towner and his very progressive
and talented jazz band, Oregon, were coming to town. They were to play
at one of those outdoor, world music festivals in Portland, Oregon.
I was going to listen to the band weave their magical, musical thread
then I was going to try to talk with Ralph afterward about his approach
to the 12-string guitar. I had brought my own 12-string with me. I was
going to make a day of it.
I arrived at the park early. I had my guitar, as I said. I had brought
along a small pack with a lunch, a book to read, a pad of paper and
pen to write letters with. I was going to make a day of it. I had nothing
else to do. I looked forward to hearing Oregon and talking to Ralph
Towner. I wandered around the park. It was a sunny, summer day. I stopped
occasionally to listen to someone play some kind of ethnic instrument,
African talking drums, Australian didgeridoos, Bamboo flutes from South
America, Chinese Pei-Pas. This was during the "New-Age"
wave of music back in 85. Remember that?
I was enjoying myself. I was being "new-aged". I was feelin
fine. I ate my lunch. I wrote a letter. I lay on the grass with my face
to the sun. I drifted and waited for Ralph Towner and Oregon to arrive.
When the time neared for them to go on I packed up my stuff and wandered
over to the small stage where they were to play. I found a good seat,
took out my book to read and wait. I was doin fine.
When they came on they cast their spell and afterward I did, indeed,
get to speak with Towner. We discussed the 12-string guitar and the
different tunings he uses. Then I wandered off through the park again.
I found a tree to sit against and took out my 12-string and began to
play. I was off in my own little world and actually thought I sounded
Im not sure how long I played. I like to tune out all distractions
when I play the guitar. I like getting to the point where it almost
seems as if the instrument is playing itself. Im just there to
hold it or cradle it. This is what I mean by my comment about being
in the company of the angels. It doesnt happen often but when
it does, oh man!
The 12string guitar is the perfect instrument to put me there.
The sound of a 12-string guitar is so ethereal. It is spirit-like and
spectral. It is unearthly. It is eerie yet magnificent. It is
wait! What is that?
Oh, excuse me, back to the 12-string guitar. They have such a full,
yet airy sound. They sound as if
.Wait! What? What is that?
I could hear something in the distance, something that sliced into my
little world. It sounded like, hell, it sounded like that F-5 at the
end of the movie Twister. It wasnt really "slicing"
into my world. Thats too clean and neat a description. It was
more like an aerial bombardment. It invaded. It came crashing through
the trees like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I couldnt ignore it.
Off to my left, over a little rise I could hear some of the, well let
me just say, some of the ass-kickinest electric guitar Id ever
heard. This was not some guy, like me, plucking absentmindedly on an
acoustic guitar in a park at a world music festival trying to join company
with the angels. NO, no. Fuck that! This was somebody pouring every
ounce of emotion; love, rage, you name it, into every note. This was
a guy on a rampage. This was a guy set on furious boil. Did you ever
see the movie The Perfect Storm? If the power behind that storm could
pulse from an electric guitar this was it. This music bulldozed into
my 12-string reverie. Who the hell is that? I had to find out. I quickly
packed up my stuff and headed in the direction of the frenzy.
It was evident right away that this music pounding through the park
was causing quite a commotion. It had caught the attention of many more
people than just me. It had caught us with a big treble hook and was
winching us in. A large crowd was gathering around a small stage set
up in the middle of a grassy field. I could feel this music hitting
me square between the eyes. It was exploding like an M-80 in my face.
It wrapped around me and took my breath away. This guy, whoever he was,
was like an erupting volcano. He was relentless. He was a tsunami. He
was not gentle with his guitar as Ralph Towner had been an hour or so
earlier. Quite the opposite. This guy pounded his guitar like a boxer
pounds a heavy bag. He gripped and shook the neck of Stratocaster is
if he were shaking the life out of a moray eel.
Yet, the sounds he made, my god! Nobody plays guitar like this, I thought.
Now, I had seen Hendrix. I had seen Clapton. I had seen Jimmy Page and
Duane Allman and Alvin Lee and Michael Bloomfield, but this guy? Nobody
did what this guy was doing. He did it all. He played behind his back,
up behind his neck, with his teeth. He played soft and sweet. He played
fast, lightening bolt runs like a demon on steroids. Hell, he out-Hendrixed
Hendrix. Who is this guy?
He wore a black, flat-brimmed, Billy Jack style cowboy hat. He had long
hair that hung damp and dripping down the sides of his face. He was
awash in sweat. He wore a Mexican serape draped over his shoulders and
his pants were tucked into moccasin-style boots. He wrenched the sounds
out of his guitar. He gritted his teeth, closed his eyes and beat the
shit out of his instrument and us, the audience, at the same time. His
guitar showed it. It was scratched with battle scars and war wounds
and it wailed and screamed like a thousand onrushing warriors. Who the
hell is this guy?
I never found out that day. No one ever said who he was and I was in
too much of a daze to ask. Hell, I could barely walk; he had beaten
me to a pulp with his blues guitar. But about six months later I was
in San Francisco at my brothers house. We were listening to some
music one afternoon when my brother suddenly said, "Oh, I gotta
play this album for you. Check it out. You gotta hear this guy."
He put a record on the stereo and handed me the LP cover. And it was
that guy! It was the guy from that day in Portland a few months ago.
It was the same guy who had kicked my ass in that park.
It was Stevie Ray Vaughan.
If you have never seen Stevie Ray play guitar then my suggestion is
to go, no, run to the nearest video store and buy a concert video of
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Then run home. Dont even
stop for a beer. Run home, put it in the machine, and turn up the volume
and watch. Do it now, dont wait, dont read the rest of this
piece. Do yourself a favor.
Remember the opening scenes of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark? Remember
that huge rock ball rolling and thundering toward Indiana Jones? THAT
was Stevie Ray. Did you ever see the movie Twister? Remember that F-5
at the end of the movie roaring and raging through that farm and tearing
the shit out of everything? THAT was Stevie Ray. To use the well worn
phrase, he blew me away. Still does. No one, not Hendrix, not Clapton,
not Page, has ever done what Stevie Ray Vaughan did He was a monster.
He was a natural. He could play the electric guitar second to none.
When that helicopter went down in 1990 it was damn tragedy to the world
Stevie Ray Vaughan! I got lucky in 1985. He had been around a while.
The album my brother had played for me had been out for almost two years
already. I always thought of myself being pretty hip to what was up
in the music world but somehow I was behind the time on this one. He
just happened to be sitting in with, wait a minute; I still dont
know who he was sitting in with that day. He just happened to be jamming
with some guys and I just happened to be there. I was in the right place
at the right time.
I remember, too, the day he died. I was in my car heading to lunch from
work. The radio was playing a Stevie Ray song. I was diggin it.
Then on came another Stevie Ray song. After that, another, then another.
I remember saying out loud to no one, "Whats with all the
Stevie Ray? What? Did he die or something?" It was an innocent
thing to say but it was the wrong thing to say. When the DJ came back
on the radio he announced that Stevie Ray Vaughan had died in a helicopter
crash. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. Oh
I introduced my father to Stevie Rays music a couple years ago
while we were driving to Montana. We were driving through Idaho and
I put a CD in and clicked forward to the song "Texas Flood".
We listened a minute when my dad suddenly said, "Damn, who is this?"
"Thats Stevie Ray Vaughan," I answered.
"Wow! This guy is really in your face."
We now call that stretch of I-90 from Washington State to Montana the
"Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Highway". We listen to him every
time we pass over that particular section of highway on our annual fishing
Stevie Ray Vaughan! What a show he put on. He put that kind of show
on every time he took the stage. I just happened to be there that day
back in 85. I was lucky. Right place-right time.
© Jeffrey Beyl June 2003
all rights reserved