Stephen Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990 Dallas, TX) was an American musician, best known as the guitarist and frontman of the blues rock trio Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Although his mainstream career spanned only seven years, he is regarded as one of the most influential musicians in the history of blues music, and one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Born and raised in Dallas, Vaughan began playing guitar at age seven, initially inspired by his elder brother, Jimmie Vaughan. In 1972, he dropped out of high school and moved to Austin, where he began to gain a following after playing gigs on the local club circuit. Vaughan joined forces with Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums as Double Trouble in 1978 and established it as part of the Austin music scene; it soon became one of the most popular acts in Texas. He performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, where David Bowie saw him play. Bowie contacted him for a studio gig which resulted in Vaughan playing blues guitar on the album Let’s Dance (1983), before being discovered by John Hammond who interested major label Epic Records in signing Vaughan and his band to a record deal. Within months, they achieved mainstream success for the critically acclaimed debut album Texas Flood. With a series of successful network television appearances and extensive concert tours, Vaughan became the leading figure in the blues revival of the 1980s. Playing his guitar behind his back or plucking the strings with his teeth as Jimi Hendrix did, he earned fame in Europe, which later resulted in breakthroughs for guitar players like Robert Cray, Jeff Healey, Robben Ford, and Walter Trout, amongst others.
During the majority of his life, Vaughan struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. He also struggled with the personal and professional pressures of fame and his marriage to Lenora “Lenny” Bailey. He successfully completed rehabilitation and began touring again with Double Trouble in November 1986. His fourth and final studio album In Step reached number 33 in the United States in 1989; it was one of Vaughan’s most critically and commercially successful releases and included his only number-one hit, “Crossfire”. He became one of the world’s most highly demanded blues performers, and he headlined Madison Square Garden in 1989 and the Beale Street Music Festival in 1990.
On August 27, 1990, Vaughan and four others were killed in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin, after performing with Double Trouble at Alpine Valley Music Theatre. An investigation concluded that the cause of the accident was pilot error and Vaughan’s family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Omniflight Helicopters which was settled out of court. Vaughan’s music continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases and has sold over 15 million albums in the United States alone. In 2003, David Fricke of Rolling Stone ranked him the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. Vaughan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, along with Double Trouble bandmates Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon, and Reese Wynans. On Monday, August 27, 1990, at 12:50 a.m. (CDT), Vaughan and members of Eric Clapton‘s touring entourage played an all-star encore jam session at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin. They then left for Midway International Airport in Chicago in a Bell 206B helicopter, the most common way for acts to enter and exit the venue, as there is only one road in and out, heavily used by fans. The helicopter crashed into a nearby ski hill shortly after takeoff. Vaughan and the four others on board—pilot Jeff Brown, agent Bobby Brooks, bodyguard Nigel Browne, and tour manager Colin Smythe—died.