Album review: STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE – The Complete Epic Recordings Collection

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN & DOUBLE TROUBLE - The Complete Epic Recordings Collection

Sony/Legacy [Release date 03.11.14]

Of all the blues rock superstars of the last 30 years the figure of Stevie Ray Vaughan looms large and casts a shadow over a generation.  Sadly his life was cut short in 1990 at the age of 35.  It wasn’t until the late-seventies with his band Double Trouble that he started commanding attention.  It was, though, his appearance on Bowie’s album ‘Let’s Dance’ that really brought him to a wider audience and in 1983 he signed a contract with Epic.

The music on this “complete collection” – documents the core commercial years but is book-ended by an early live album and two CDs of rarities.  His debut ‘Texas Flood’ (1983) is a classic, selling half a million copies and encapsulating his raw, direct approach and mixing covers with originals.  It set the blueprint for the following albums, including ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ (1984) which consolidated his reputation and included a definitive cover of his hero Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’, and ‘Soul To Soul’ (1985).

A live album was inevitable but 1986′s ‘Live Alive’ was criticised for a lack of structure and extended jamming.  By this time, Vaughan had succumbed to a lifestyle fuelled by drugs and alcohol.  He was arrested in 1979 for cocaine use and sentenced to two years probation.  Inevitably he entered rehab before his extended (and final) tour 1986-8.

Vaughan’s final studio album released in 1989 was recorded against this background of drug and alcohol abuse, and a costly divorce, but it became his most commercially successful.  It seemed the rehabilitated guitarist had even gained establishment respect as he attended the inauguration of the American president.

This 12-disc collection is peppered with several of Vaughan’s live recordings including ‘In The Beginning’ (a FM radio broadcast from 1980), ‘Live At Montreux’ and ‘Live At Carnegie Hall’.  However the real gem is a commercial release for ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ recorded for radio in July 1983 although this gig has been available for some time on DVD.

The two disc “Archives” features outtakes and demos from 1984-1989.  All of this material has appeared previously not least on the 2010 ‘Legacy’ edition of ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’.  Collectors and the curious should also be guided to the earlier box set released in 2000 ‘SRV’ which featured additional unreleased recordings and a DVD.

This new box set – which has the albums in thick facsimilie card sleeves – also includes a well-annotated booklet with an introductory essay.  It is a shame that the compilers couldn’t have included the posthumous ‘Family Style’ (with his brother Jimmie).

The more casual listener may find the 5 disc ‘Original Album Classics’ (2013) a little more manageable (and cheaper) as this features the core studio albums and also includes ‘The Sky Is Crying’ although this 1991 compilation is referenced fully in the archive discs.

Sadly, as too often with influential bluesmen, Vaughan’s life was tragically cut short.  Historically he paved the way in the 1980s for a new breed of blues rockers gaining commercial acceptance (Jeff Healey, Walter Trout amongst them).

This box set is essential by way of introduction to a player who still resonates amongst the current generation of blues guitar slingers.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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