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The Day The Sky Cried: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Death 24 Years Later

Eric Clapton watched from the side of the stage as Stevie Ray Vaughan lit up the night with his guitar. Clapton later described Vaughan’s playing that night as a “palpable, emotional…oneness.” He called him a “master of everything, with no room for improvement.” Just hours later, Stevie Ray Vaughan was gone. He was just 35 years old.

It was August 27th, 1990. Vaughan had just performed the second of two nights at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI in support of Clapton. Robert Cray was also performing on the bill that night. After the show, shortly before 1 AM, a helicopter carrying Vaughan and members of Clapton’s crew crashed within seconds after takeoff, killing them instantly.

The night before, Vaughan made an eery statement to his band and crew members. It was about a horrible nightmare he had in which he was at his own funeral and saw thousands of mourners. He felt “terrified, yet almost peaceful.”

Maybe it was his time. Maybe, as Clapton said, Vaughan had reached the pinnacle of his talents. On a personal level had also licked his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Maybe he had completed his mission. Easy to say but then there are all the people left behind in his wake who loved him dearly like his brother Jimmy Vaughan, his band mates in Double Trouble Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon and his girlfriend of nearly four years Janna Lapidus. And there were his millions of fans who would never see their guitar hero perform again.

There had never been a guitarist like Vaughan and there likely never will be. He played with lightning-like ferocity and speed. He was passionate. When he closed his eyes and played his guitar he was from another world. Every note came from his soul, traveled out through his fingers and bled onto the strings.

Vaughan was also the anti-hero of the guitar at the time. In a decade overcrowded with big-haired guitarists squeezing as many lifeless notes into a song as possible, Vaughan was more concerned with playing just the right notes at just the right time. Vaughan once said, “For a long time, you learn to play as many notes as you can find. And then you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out which ones you can leave out.”

It’s sad to think of all the great music Vaughan could have made over the last 24 years but how lucky we are to have all the great music he did make in his short time here.

Thank you Stevie Ray. You are greatly missed.

The Day The Sky Cried: Stevie Ray Vaughan's Death 24 Years Later by Eric Senich
Stevie Ray Vaughan bronze sculpture in Zilker Park (Austin, Texas) / Getty Images

You see, we are here, as far as I can tell, to help each other; our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our enemies. That is to help each other and not hurt each other.

– Stevie Ray Vaughan

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