A Cold, but True, Shot, Babe…

Had I not been reminded the night of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s most recent induction-ceremony a certain family member is a fan of his music, I would have kept here from sharing my thoughts on a) John Mayer inducting Stevie Ray Vaughan, b) his approach to playing the blues, and c) his pop/weak-ass speech.  Of course, this proved too difficult to ignore.  (And, I feel safe that said family member will not actually see this post on fb.  …It’s all said out of love.)

I’m aware of the compare-and-contrasts on comment-threads, between the two, but the true contrast is within Mayer.  He still insists on being a pop star.  You can clearly hear it in his more tepid style of songwriting and performing.  Where’s the soul, frightened? The back into the digs and bends, the jazz, the funk, the drive, boogie, or the swing?! The just lettin’ it go?!  Singing the blues, [or just playing it] as Ma Rainey described, is not necessarily as a way to feel better, but to better understand life.  It is the good in a person willing to hash out in some fun or sweet way layers of loneliness.  Mayer seems to be at a point in his career where he could very easily let his colors fly.  But he still chooses to abstain.

He has good technique and fingering, and he most certainly has the performance gene. But this is the nagging contrast between him and more serious blues musicians — let alone when he tries to pick up Stevie Ray Vaughan’s number.  I mean, I’m sorry, if you date women like Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, (supposedly) Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry, among others, you will never know the blues.  This is just obvious.

I could not listen to this speech beyond the :55 mark.  I gave it another try, lasted another fifteen seconds.  …Ultimately, there are some semi-sincere deposits, but as predicted just too skate-along-the-surface, pretty, and pop.  (And not to overlook he is someone who thinks he is charming but isn’t.)  …No, Jimi did not come from out outer-space, he very much came from the ground up, as well, and took it everywhere including the sky.

It is oftentimes quite difficult for a person very spiritual to try and connect with others who themselves all love to be uplifted, but are obviously in many ways not all cut from the same cloth.  The spirit Stevie Ray Vaughan embodied in his music is not at all well represented in this speech.  …Yeesh, how many nauseating times are you going to drop my least favorite word, ‘hero’?  And, hold on a sec, you ‘turned down every drug and drink’ offered to you?!  You must mean this as already having your own because you were an avid burner for years!  You did an interview while puffing!  Define ‘drug’.  …I want-to-keep my eyes from rolling.

No one would argue anyone more fitting to both induct and accept on his brother’s behalf than Jimmie (not the other Jimi, but his brother).  Stevie came from a musical family, and entered into a larger one courtesy of his family and older brother.  I would have loved to hear Jimmie share the story of how he showed his brother a lot of what he knows on guitar, but warned if he asked him to show him anything again he’ll kick your ass.  Well, he asked!  And now here he is getting inducted into the Hall.  ‘Naturally, I don’t mind,’ he might have added.  ‘He obviously in more ways than I just mentioned earned it.’

Wherever you would hear that ululating bend hang up there and then come back down on the note again, your ears recognize it as a Vaughan riff.  One could take from many of the written excerpts from his box-set pages, where there are so many beautiful, highlighted remarks from David Bowie, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy, Joe Satriani, Chris Layton, among others — or, not to mention the article reprinted from a guitar magazine, salivatingly entitled, “The Secrets Behind Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Legendary Guitar Tone”: an interview with his guitar-tech, Rene Martinez.

Surely, one of the most profound what-ifs asked around guitar-circles is what if Jimi Hendrix had been alive to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan?  He would have ended up spending a little more time in Texas, to be sure!  (‘Take me to the [physical] place that note came from…’)  The parallels between the two are too numerous and unmistakable.  Jimi said he wanted to create music so powerful it could be a light that could cure cancer.  Stevie often visited and played for young people, and children, stricken with cancer, in their hospital rooms.  It is this generosity of spirit, this habitually gleeful level of sacrifice that puts these two musicians/people in the same camp.

They likely would have played a lot together, surely written and performed songs together, as just as surely there would have been a healthy, competitive friendship for the sake of the musical world.  I once read of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan crossing paths at a club in Ireland, and they sat as the gob-smacked interviewer watched them quiz each other identifying lines from the most obscure folk songs.  You could imagine the two guitar greats doing the same with blues riffs.

But, Stevie played with Buddy Guy, and that is close enough.

He had “technique…by the truckload”, as Steve Vai once put it.  This is evidenced in many, many, many places.  Just one example, one of my personal favorites, is in this version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  He goes from just strumming away, taking a virtual break, to dropping the pedal to the floor in his solo; like sitting in limbo before the passenger-jet suddenly, very quickly hits full-throttle.  And he stays locked in!  Never for a moment losing focus!  With Double Trouble’s you’re-not-worthy rhythm-playing behind it, it is fun, funky, jazzy, and flawless.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites an approximation of 10,000 hours of practice at something makes you an expert.  Let’s see, Stevie Ray Vaughan started playing on his seventh birthday, in 1961, and played everyday until his passing, about 29 years later.  …Minus sleeping and eating.  …Let’s say he played at around 14 hours per day? …Wow!  148,190 hours!  (Plus or minus. 🙂 )

How else can you explain being able to launch into something with so much feel, at seemingly any given point in time, and never miss?  Knowledge, passion, devotion, and drive — sweet and profound — that made him so great and so much fun to watch.