“What’s your favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan album?”
In the days before mask wearing and social distancing, I was noodling on a tasty Les Paul Standard at my local guitar store when I got asked this question.
The clerk and I had started up a conversation about various blues greats and I mentioned that I’d been on a bit of an SRV trip recently.
I thought about it for a moment. “Texas Flood” or “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” were the obvious answers, with an honorable mention for “In Step” (“Tightrope” is an absolute jam). But the more I considered the question, the more I realized my favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan album wasn’t actually an album at all.
The SRV recording that I’ve played the most is undoubtedly “Live at the El Mocambo,” the DVD of Stevie Ray and Double Trouble’s performance at the titular Toronto venue in 1983 that was retrospectively released on video in 1992. I received it as Christmas present as an impressionable teenager. Needless to say, it had a profound impact.
“El Mocambo” is the real deal. It’s an up-close and personal view of Stevie and band in support of the “Texas Flood” album that just blows my mind every time I watch it. And it’s clearly filmed with guitarists in mind; plenty of lingering shots on Stevie’s spectacular finger work are an absolute masterclass for any a would-be six stringer.
Yes, the studio recordings on “Texas Flood” are great. But the effect of watching them live on stage is next level – transformative even.
From the opening one-two punch of “Testify” and “So Excited,” you know that the band means business. Even at this early stage in their career, they’re absolutely formidable; raw, hungry and devastating in their execution.
Vaughan is the star, of course. On “Pride and Joy,” he effortlessly grooves. His fierce playing on “Texas Flood” is matched by his showmanship; Stevie never misses a note while playing behind his back. He also shows his prowess as a song interpreter; a flawless version of “Voodoo Child” and an electrifying “Third Stone from the Sun” shine a new light on the already spectacular Hendrix originals.
That’s not to malign the power of Double Trouble, either. Bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton are solid as a rock throughout the 70-minute runtime. The backbeat that they lay down is formidable and unwavering, reminding you that Stevie Ray and Double Trouble was a true, harmonious unit.
In their review of “Live at the El Mocambo”, Entertainment Weekly noted that Stevie Ray Vaughan does “the kinds of things that make aspiring guitarists turn their Fenders over to the pawnbroker in despair.”
I don’t think that’s true, though. Yes, I was absolutely floored by the insane raw talent on display when I first watched it as a youth, but my overriding impulse was to turn up my Marshall amp as loud as I could (sorry Mom and Dad) and try and capture at least some of that magic for myself. That’s the potency of “Live at the El Mocambo” and, for me at least, the reason it’s the greatest thing Stevie Ray ever did.
What is your favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan album? Did you ever see the great man live? And what are the go-to live DVDs in your collection. As always, share your stories in the comments.