Texas Flood is one of the most stunning debuts in the history of popular music; it instantly modernized the blues for a new generation upon its release in 1983. The blues had experienced a revival in the ’60s, but it had fallen out of fashion by the early ’80s, hopelessly lost amidst corporate-backed hair metal and sterile synth-driven pop. The blues is a fiercely organic form; I think it’s a testament to its power that barely anybody has ever made millions just by playing the blues. Blues music just isn’t commercial, yet somehow Stevie Ray Vaughan singlehandedly brought it back into the public consciousness with an articulate synthesis of familiar strands of blues DNA and spiraling solos that wrap around those strands like a double helix.
When Texas Flood arrived on the scene, it had been years since there had been a popular blues album, and as a result the advances in recording technology in the interim gave it a really fresh sound. It also helped that Vaughan managed to take the blues, which permeates every corner of popular music, and literally take it to a level no one had ever heard before. There have been plenty of great guitarists and, for that matter, plenty of great blues guitarists, but I can’t stress enough that not only was what Vaughan did on Texas Flood unprecedented, but it still has yet to be surpassed nearly thirty years later. Furthermore, no one has even tried, at least not ostensibly. (Read: if someone has tried, they have fallen so far short that no one has even noticed their attempt.)
Much of a guitarist’s prowess rests on his or her soloing ability, and while Stevie Ray is as good as soloists come, the fact that he really is a gifted songwriter tends to get lost in the frequently hyperbolic praise that gets sent his way. It’s not altogether surprising that this tends to happen, given the overwhelming power of his solos, but so thorough is his mastery that he manages to make every single one of Texas Flood‘s covers his own, from Larry Davis‘ title track to Howlin’ Wolf‘s “Tell Me” to the Isley Brothers’ “Testify” to Buddy Guy‘s “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Furthermore, his own songs — such as the iconic “Pride and Joy” — blend in perfectly with the non-originals, with several instrumental interludes thrown in, as well. The instrumental closer “Lenny,” a tribute to his wife, is one of my favorite songs ever. It’s a fast-paced affair, designed to replicate the feel of his early club shows, and truth be told, none of these songs were new by the time Vaughan recorded them for his debut.
The story goes that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble performed at Switzerland’s prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, and when their performance was booed by a crowd that deemed their sound too noisy, they performed for a couple of nights at the bar of the casino where the festival takes place. Jackson Browne watched them perform on the second night and offered them free time in his personal recording studio so they could record a demo. That demo eventually got them a record deal with Epic. They had already been performing a healthy set list for some time, so it’s not a surprise that Texas Flood took just three days to record. It’s really a perfect storm of a giant leap in recording technology meeting somebody playing not just the most articulate version of the blues in recorded history, but the most articulate version of the blues imaginable.
And because of that, Texas Flood will always be impossible to top. More importantly, Stevie Ray Vaughan is easily the most influential guitarist of the past three decades, influencing everyone from John Mayer to Pearl Jam‘s Mike McCready.