No matter what, Stevie Ray Vaughan was going to make a name for himself, whether it was as a solo artist or as one of David Bowie’s hired guns. Vaughan had played on Bowie’s hugely successful Let’s Dance record and was scheduled to join Bowie’s 1983 tour before he suddenly wasn’t. Depending on whose story you listen to, Vaughan and his manager were either let go, or they quit. Whatever the case, Vaughan found himself in a good position to promote his debut record, Texas Flood.
By the time Vaughan died at the age of 35 in a helicopter accident in 1990, he’d gone through the classic rock star arc in the course of only four studio albums: big splash and accolades, substance abuse problems, redemption and creative rebirth. His last record, 1989’s In Step, found him on the clear side of his addictions and finding crossover success with lots of radio and MTV play.
Texas Flood was the record that introduced him to the world, though, and you couldn’t ask for a better introduction. The album showcases Vaughan’s trademark take on the Texas blues sound, that famous chunky rhythm that sounded like Vaughan was playing some kind of heavy-gauge fencing wire instead of guitar strings. In addition to defining his sound right out of the gate, it also featured a batch of songs that remained live staples for the rest of Vaughan’s career. “Texas Flood” scored a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Performance, “Rude Mood” was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental performance, and “Pride and Joy” hit #20 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. It was a pure dose of Vaughan and his band Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums) playing the songs live in studio just as they’d been playing them on stage.
This 30th Anniversary Edition reinforces that picture of a young band with something to prove by adding a second disc containing a 1983 performance at Philadelphia’s Ripley’s Music Hall. In addition to the expected tracks from Texas Flood, the performance also features future Vaughan staples like his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Little Wing”. Perhaps due to space limitations, it’s a few songs short of the full performance, but it’s still a show well worth hearing.
As for the studio disc, it still holds up as well as it always did. Vaughan’s playing is by turns tasteful and blistering, and it’s not surprising the album gets a lot of credit for revitalizing the blues scene at the time. Well-chosen covers like “Tell Me”, “Testify”, and the title track fit right alongside originals like “Love Struck Baby” and “Pride and Joy”; Vaughan definitely turns everything into a showcase for his unique style. It’s still probably the best place to start for those unfamiliar with his music.
The ony quibble comes in the selection of bonus tracks. Whereas the 1999 reissue contained an interview snippet and four bonus tracks, this edition has only one extra song. Three of those earlier bonus tracks were live, so maybe with this reissue having a whole live disc attached, the cuts from the 1999 reissue felt superfluous. All that’s left is his cover of Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place in Town)”, which is always nice to have. Still, it’s just one of those curious and frustrating things you always seem to have with albums that get reissued multiple times.
There’s little doubt that Vaughan died too early, before he showed us just how far he could go. In Step showed him starting to branch out and expand his songwriting beyond pure blues before he died, and it would have been nice to see where that ultimately took him. As it stands, that album will just have to provide a tantalizing bookend to the raw power that Texas Flood captured.