Better late than never: After being snubbed for years, Oak Cliff native and blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland this month. Vaughn’s many fans didn’t need the validation–it’s not an original observation to note that all the pomp and ceremony of a hall of fame is pretty antithetical to the spirit of rock and roll–but if the April 18 televised induction ceremony helps convert even one person to the Church of Stevie and the Latter Day Blues Guitar, it’s a worthwhile affair.
Austin may have the big statue, but Vaughan called Dallas his home. He was born here, he fixed his guitars here, and after his tragic death in a helicopter accident in 1990, he was buried here. Vaughan’s easily on the shortlist of greatest Dallas musicians, and just as easily on the shortlist of greatest musicians period.
He had the look and the attitude down pat, playing until his Strats broke down and his fingers bled. More importantly, Vaughan had the chops, and he found the perfect synthesis of blues, country, and rock and roll to let his technical skills shine. For an artist who died too soon and left behind a fairly small discography, it’s remarkable how much influence Vaughan has had on just about everyone who’s picked up a guitar in the last 30 years. It’s led to a lot of pale imitations from musicians who can emulate the style, but can’t capture the soul.
So before Vaughan, alongside Double Trouble, is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we thought we’d rank the 10 best songs from the blues legend. The hardest part was picking just 10, so feel free to tell us what we missed.
Honorable mention: “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (David Bowie’s Let’s Dance)
It seems like an odd pairing on paper, but Bowie always had an eye for talent–just look at what he did for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Vaughan’s work on “Let’s Dance” and the rest of the 1983 Bowie album with the same name broadcast that distinctive guitar sound to the world. “Cat People,” a re-recording of a song Bowie did for a movie soundtrack, is one of the best tracks to stem from the collaboration.
10. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (1983 Austin City Limits Performance)
The recorded version of “Voodoo Child” on 1984’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather can’t hold a candle to this live performance. Televised on Austin City Limits, this show early in Vaughan’s career served as many people’s introduction to the Texas boy whose guitar was helping redefine the blues. “Voodoo Child” was a staple of Vaughan’s live shows, and a nod to Vaughan’s lifelong affinity for Jimi Hendrix (spoiler alert: his other well-known Hendrix cover is definitely making it on this list). It’s easy to make comparisons between the two all-time great guitarists: both played Strats, both had a penchant for working their guitars to death, and both took the blues into outer space.
9. “Taxman” (Greatest Hits)
Unreleased during his lifetime, this Beatles cover made it onto a 1995 greatest hits compilation. As is the case with most Vaughan covers, he takes a great song and makes it his own.
8. “Rude Mood” (Texas Flood)
Technical mastery of his craft shouldn’t be what Vaughan is primarily remembered for, but the man could play the hell out of a guitar. “Rude Mood” is basically four-plus minutes of Vaughan showing off, putting his fingers to work in a fast-paced shuffling showcase of everything the blues guitar can pull off.
7. “Pride and Joy” (Texas Flood)
Vaughan’s first single continues to be one of his biggest hits. Listen to any classic rock station in Texas for more than an hour, you’re likely to hear “Pride and Joy,” and for good reason. Vaughan’s voice does a lot of the heavy lifting on this very Texan take on the blues.
6. “Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)” (Couldn’t Stand The Weather)
Any good bluesman knows you have to slow it down and let your guitar do some weeping every now and then. Vaughan lets it cry along to this mournful tune about drinking, gambling, guns, and a trip back to the big house.
5. “Life by the Drop” (The Sky is Crying)
Made more poignant by Vaughan’s own struggles with alcohol, this song proves the guitarist is just as powerful unplugged.
4. “Scuttle Buttin'” (Couldn’t Stand The Weather)
Nothing fancy here, but this is about as joyful and fun as the blues get.
3. “Cold Shot” (Couldn’t Stand The Weather)
“Cold Shot” has one of those riffs that sounds like it was delivered straight from God’s own songwriting shop, a swaggering Texas shuffle that Vaughan and company turned into a blues tune capable of grabbing anybody with a pair of working ears.
2. “Little Wing” (The Sky is Crying)
Vaughan takes a song that was already pretty perfect and ups the stakes, wringing every bit of emotion out of his guitar for this one. It’s not necessarily better than the original, but Vaughan can build on what Hendrix did with this tune. Without vocals, Vaughan still finds the poetry built into “Little Wing.”
1. “Texas Flood” (Texas Flood)
There can be no other No. 1. “Texas Flood” is a distillation of everything that made Vaughan great. It’s a populist, emotional take on the blues. If you had never heard a blues song in your life, “Texas Flood” would immediately make you a fan. The guitar-playing pyrotechnics are on full display here, and so is the soul.