Written by Nick Morrison
When blues guitarist and vocalist Stevie Ray Vaughan released Texas Flood in 1983, he introduced Texas blues to a much broader audience than it had previously known. His impact was great enough that even today, 21 years after his death, if you ask a music lover to name a Texas blues guitarist, he or she will probably reply, “Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
But, like many great musicians, Vaughan was not sui generis. He synthesized his unique style by combining a huge number of influences from Albert King and Johnny “Guitar” Watson to Lonnie Mack and Kenny Burrell. That being the case, here’s a list of five Texas bluesmen (out of many) who, in addition to creating their own great legacies, paved the way for Vaughan to create a great legacy of his own.
Blues guitarist and vocalist Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins (1912-1982) was born, lived and died in Texas. He recorded a lot of songs in his life (estimated between 800 and 1,000) and often played electric guitar, as opposed to the majority of country blues artists, who performed unplugged. The New York Times obituary for Hopkins called him “perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.” He certainly influenced Stevie Ray Vaughan. A little more than a minute into this song, Lightnin’ says, “Play it boy,” and pops his low E-string a couple times, getting a little distortion out of his amplifier. It’s easy to imagine a young Stevie Ray Vaughan hearing this recording and thinking, “Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
Not only was T-Bone Walker a great influence on Vaughan, but they also grew up in the same community in Dallas: Oak Cliff. In fact, on Walker’s debut recording in 1929, he was billed as “Oak Cliff T-Bone.” By the time Walker was in his late 20s, he’d taken the sophisticated and innovative guitar style he’d developed in Texas and moved to L.A., where he made his greatest recordings, including the one included here. But, while T-Bone left Texas, Texas never let go of him: He’s honored every year at The T-Bone Walker Blues Fest in his birthplace of Linden, Texas. Here’s a video of SRV talking about and playing the guitar styles of T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Guitarist and vocalist Freddie King (“The Texas Cannonball”) was born and raised in Texas, but moved to Chicago with his family when he graduated high school in 1949. Like T-Bone Walker, he took a style he’d begun to develop in Texas and grafted it onto the dominant blues sound of his new home; Walker contributed to the L.A. jump-blues sound, while King explored the grittier blues sound of Chicago’s South Side. When King finally began recording in 1960, his first sessions resulted in some of his finest work, including the famous instrumental “Hide Away.” The song soon became a benchmark for judging young blues guitarists: If the guitarist could cop “Hide Away,” he had chops to burn. Eric Clapton proved himself with this song on his first album with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. “Hide Away” was also a staple in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s live repertoire.
From Albert Collins’ first notes in the 1962 recording “Frosty,” his influence on Vaughan is apparent. Collins was a remarkable Texas blues player known for long, intense solos in live performance, as well as a lot of good old, hard-earned showing off. Before the creation of cordless electric-guitar technology, Collins simply armed himself with an exceptionally long cord, so he could jump down into the audience and play among his fans. If the cord was long enough and the venue was small enough, Collins would exit the building and rip out some licks on the sidewalk for a while. Not only did Albert Collins influence the playing of many aspiring blues guitarists, but he also taught them how to put on a show. Here’s SRV performing a live version of “Frosty.”
The first four artists on this list are just a few of the players who influenced Vaughan’s guitar style. Now we come to a man who had a big influence on Vaughan’s singing. Larry Davis was a singer, guitarist and bassist who never recorded much. Early in his career (the 1950s and ’60s), his recording opportunities were limited, and in the early 1970s he was sidelined for a decade after a motorcycle accident. In fact, if he hadn’t recorded this song — and if Stevie Ray Vaughan hadn’t used it as the title track of his first album — Larry Davis’ music might have slipped into obscurity.