If memory serves, someone once wrote that Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar like he was breaking out of jail. It’s a good line, one that certainly captures Vaughan’s raw power as a guitarist. Granted, it doesn’t capture the delicacy that Vaughan could occasionally bring to his work, but otherwise it captures pretty well the image of Vaughan raking his pick across the strings of that iconic, beat-to-hell Fender Strat.
When I was finishing up my high school years in the mid ‘80s, my tastes, like most kids my age, ran to the alternative rock side of things. Bands like U2, R.E.M., and the Cure were ascendant. Those are great bands, whose music still holds up. But it was easy to have tunnel vision that didn’t see past MTV’s 120 Minutes. But Stevie Ray Vaughan, against all probability, just kept popping up.
There he was on Saturday Night Live in ‘86. There he was playing on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance record. And there he was on a promising new show called MTV Unplugged. That Unplugged performance was the kicker; if you cared at all about rock ‘n’ roll or the blues, and had somehow been able to ignore Vaughan, you couldn’t in good conscience claim ignorance after watching that performance. Vaughan shared the bill with Joe Satriani, and it’s safe to say that Vaughan blew Satriani off the stage. Satriani certainly didn’t embarrass himself, he was dexterous, expressive, and worthy of the hype that surrounded him. But Vaughan came on like a visceral force of nature, tearing through acoustic renditions of “Rude Mood”, “Pride and Joy”, and “Testify”. By comparison, Satriani felt positively polite. And then, seven months after showin’ out for that broadcast, and reportedly after he’d cleaned up after years of substance abuse, Vaughan died in a helicopter crash. All that was left to fledgling fans were a handful of albums and a soon-to-be-released Vaughan Brothers disc.
Thankfully, the DVD reissue of Pride and Joy includes those Unplugged moments. The long-available VHS version consisted mainly of Vaughan’s promotional videos, which these days come across as slightly dated lip-synched products of the ‘80s (although the pale, gaunt, presumably strung-out Vaughan of “Change It” is a little startling). There was also a live version of Howling Wolf’s “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime)”. The new DVD set adds a posthumous video for Vaughan’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” (a video that’s as much a tribute to guitars and Vaughan’s guitar heroes as it is to Vaughan himself), the three Unplugged tracks, TV commercials for Couldn’t Stand the Weather and Soul to Soul, and two videos and an electronic press kit for the Vaughan Brothers project.
The Vaughan Brothers clips are a nice treat. Songs like “Tick Tock” and “Good Texan” featured a nice blend of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rough-and-tumble style with his brother Jimmie’s more fluid playing. Maybe it’s the passage of time, and the knowledge that the Vaughan Brothers won’t be able to sit in a room together again and talk about their music, but the press kit is actually interesting.
Overall, Pride and Joy is a nice grab bag and it makes sense for these snippets of his career to be placed together. Although most of the videos are best heard rather than watched. Does it really make sense, for example, for “Good Texan” to feature a referee watching a couple dance? It would be nice if Pride and Joy contained more live cuts, but several full performances have come out on their own in recent years, with probably more still to come.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article