Stevie Ray Vaughan was a one of a kind, a blues king for a new generation of blues lovers around the world. Even though he passed away 26 years ago in 1990 we’re blessed to still have his studio albums, live albums and the countless bootlegs from so many shows he played during his career. Live bootlegs for someone as great as Stevie Ray Vaughan are essential listening, and this one recorded at Chicago Blues Festival in 1985 is no different.
Stevie opens with an incredible version of Scuttle Buttin’ from his 1984 studio album Couldn’t Stand The Weather. The song opened that album and in a live setting it sounds absolutely phenomenal, providing a little taster into what songs come next. His guitar playing is second to none and at only a few minutes in length you really wish the song could go on for longer. However, for a show opener it’s perfection. The funky Say What! comes immediately after and provides the first of many Hendrix-esque riffs of the performance. Vaughan’s guitar is dripping with that delicious wah sound that takes you back to Hendrix and Clapton from the late 1960’s, but he makes it his own and some. The overall groove of this song is reminiscent of Hendrix’s Still Raining, Still Dreaming from his Electric Ladyland album from 1968 but sped up to create an absolute monster of a blues number.
Things get slower with the great Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up On Love which sees Vaughan sing for the first time after two blistering instrumentals. You can tell the mark of a great bluesman by their ability to play a slow blues. Some may think it’s easy, just solo over the rhythm section. So many guitarists try to throw as many notes into a slow blues as possible but the best guitarists like Vaughan know when to play, know that it’s not how many notes you play but how you play those notes. And Vaughan plays them beautifully. The song starts slow and laid back before he takes the reigns and lights up the stage in Chicago, showering everyone with his guitar playing brilliance before slowing things down again to end the song. Breathtaking. The next song Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is one of the most recognisable songs of all time and it’s very difficult to cover a Hendrix song well. But in many ways you could call him Hendrix 2.0 because Vaughan’s ability to completely own this song is remarkable. If you didn’t know who was playing you’d be forgiven in thinking it was actually Hendrix.
- Scuttle Buttin’
- Say What!
- Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up On Love
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
- Mary Had A Little Lamb
- Texas Flood
- Come On (Part III)
Mary Had A Little Lamb is the next song and the guitar riff couldn’t be any more infectious. It’s not an original Vaughan riff as you can hear the great Buddy Guy play it in a recording from the 1960’s but it is fantastic and the way the whole band surrounds Vaughan is reminiscent of those late 1960’s blues/rock bands. They’re tighter than a new drum and the solid foundation that is Chris Layton on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass enables Vaughan to do his thing the way only he can on guitar. You’re able to hear Reese Wynans on keyboards here too who had been added to the live band at this point. Great stuff. One of Vaughan’s most famous songs comes next in the form of Texas Flood, another slow blues. A lot is said for his guitar playing which on this song goes to another level entirely, but as a vocalist he was one of the very best. You may not think go Vaughan when you thinking of singers but in my opinion he’s right up there.
After a minute or so break where the band leave the stage, they return to play two more numbers before bringing the concert to a close. The first is another Hendrix style cover in the form over Come On (Part III), a near identical copy to Come On (Let The Good Times Roll) from Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album. For the start of an encore it couldn’t be any better because in many ways they are ending the show the way they started, hard, fast and ferocious. It’s always good to make a first impression people will remember but it’s equally important to end on a high note and this is exactly what happens here. Vaughan plays Hendrix’s solo almost note for note and you’re again left thinking if this is actually Vaughan and not Hendrix himself. The band then lead right into the final song, Testify, from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1983 album Texas Flood. It’s another fast paced blues instrumental drenched in wah which knocks you for six on several occasions throughout. At just short of two minutes in length it’s painfully short because just like the opening song, you really with it could go on for longer.
In terms of bootleg quality, it’s very very good. There are moments towards the end where you’re able to hear Vaughan’s singing as an echo in the arena but that’s a minor point in an overall solid sounding recording. The band sound excellent which brings me back to my original point at the start of this article. Studio albums are one thing and we all know how great his albums were and continue to be, but hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan in a live setting really showcased his abilities as a guitarist, showman and performer. I’m thankful we have bootlegs like this one that we can listen to over and over again and remember how great he was.