Austin icon ranks high in Rolling Stone’s greatest guitar players list

Rachel Thompson

Smiles came easily whenever the late Austin musician Stevie Ray Vaughan was around because of his positive spirit and the revolutionary sound of his music, said music photographer and friend Susan Antone.

“When Stevie came in the room, he just made you smile — he was really a neat, fun, creative person,” Antone said. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t like Stevie.”

Vaughan, an Austin blues-rock legend, was named 12th best guitarist in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists” ranking.

Antone’s brother Clifford Antone, a close friend of Vaughan’s, opened the music bar and restaurant Antone’s on Fifth Street in 1975 as a place for up-and-coming musicians to play. The restaurant, now known as one of the prime live music venues in Austin, helped launch Vaughan’s remarkable career.

Dallas-bred Vaughan dropped out of high school at age 17 to move to Austin and pursue a career in music. He formed the blues band Blackbird before joining The Cobras in 1975, a band that would become Austin’s Band of the Year in 1976.

Vaughan then became the lead singer of the band Double Trouble and circled through music clubs around Austin and Texas. Musician and record producer David Bowie saw one performance and asked Vaughan to play on his next album “Let’s Dance.”

Double Trouble released several of its own albums, the fourth of which went gold and nabbed a Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Contemporary Blues Recording.

After a Double Trouble concert in Wisconsin featuring other guitarists including Vaughan’s brother Jimmie, Vaughan boarded a Chicago-bound helicopter. It crashed minutes after takeoff, tragically killing 35-year-old Vaughan and its four other passengers on Aug. 27, 1990.

His legend was never forgotten, and Austin Music Commission vice chair Joah Spearman said Vaughan continues to influence the music scene in Austin.

“You can look at how much downtown Austin has changed since he died, but artists are still influenced by him,” Spearman said. “It speaks to the timeless nature of Stevie Ray. I think we can think of him as someone to credit for making Austin the Live Music Capitol.”

In 1994, a statue was placed at Auditorium Shores in honor of Vaughan to remind Austin of a musician who helped shape its reputation as a music-centered city, said Megan Crigger, a spokeswoman for City of Austin Cultural Arts Division.

“It’s been a huge success,” Crigger said. “Not only because we see people leaving gifts at the foot of the sculpture, but because it reinforces Austin’s reputation as the live music capital — it’s been really beneficial to Austin in that way and the reputation of having great music and supporting musicians and artists.”

Susan Antone said she remembered “Stevie Ray” as both a kind-hearted friend as well as an extraordinary musical talent.

“He was and is one of the greats, and he is not to be repeated,” she said. “He is an ambassador for Austin — every place he went, he carried the banner for Austin and for music.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 as: Austin icon Stevie Ray Vaughan noted as 12th best guitarist by Rolling Stone