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Stevie’s style was unique, blending elements of traditional Blues, Rock 'n’ Roll, country, Soul, Jazz and Rock. He had an incredible control of the instrument, with his style going from very raw and aggressive to very subtle and gentle.
GI welcomes back Jamie Humphries with an exclusive Tech Session on Stevie Ray Vaughan - one of the hottest guitarists ever to emerge from the Texas Blues scene. Jamie takes an in-depth look at SRV’s riff and licks.
Even more than 20 years after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely and tragic death, his popularity and ever-growing impact on the guitar community is unparalleled. He has influenced a diverse list of players including Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and even John Petrucci. Stevie’s unique playing style was derived from a wide variety of musical genres and artists which included Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, Chuck Berry and Otis Rush. He also listened to Jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery.
Stevie made his name on the Austin music scene as the front man/guitarist of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, with the band signing a major deal in the early '80s. Stevie and his band went on to record such classic albums as Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand The Weather, and Soul to Soul. the band earned a reputation as an electrifying live act, performing sold out concerts where ever it performed and SRV was even hired by Rock legend David Bowie to perform on his album Let's Dance, bringing Stevie’s playing to a much wider commercial audience.
Tragically, Stevie died in a helicopter crash in 1990 following a performance in Wisconsin. In this special Tech session we pay tribute to one of the greats with this special playing analysis and exclusive stylistic track.
Stevie’s style was unique, blending elements of traditional Blues, Rock 'n’ Roll, country, Soul, Jazz and Rock. He had an incredible control of the instrument, with his style going from very raw and aggressive to very subtle and gentle. A great reference of this would be to listen to such tracks as “Scuttle Buttin” and “Pride and Joy”, and compare them to “Lenny” and “Riviera Paradise” to see how broad and diverse his playing style was.
For our lesson track I have chosen to look at a Blues with a few twists and variations, including some additional chords for harmonic variation. I’ve also focused in on Stevie’s signature Texas shuffle style heard on such tracks as “Pride and Joy”, and “Cold Shot”.
Before we kick things off it’s important to remember that Stevie tuned down to Eb, which really played a big part in his sound. But for the purpose of our lesson, and to save any of you with floating bridges the hassle of having to readjust your bridges, I’ve presented this lesson and track in standard tuning. But also to satisfy the die hard SRV fans who feel it's sacrilege to play any thing SRV style in standard tuning, I’ve also included an Eb backing track; so the choice is yours!
Our track kicks off with our rhythm figure and enters with a descending chord sequence based around B6, B9, and A6, A9. You will notice that all of these chords use the same three note shape, which simply shifts resulting in either of the groups of chords. We continue our descent down the neck to G, where we play a blues based riff before concluding to the chords of C9 and B7#9.
We then enter the main riff which is a traditional Blues style riff based around E, E6 and E7. We have a bluesy twist in the main riff by including both the minor third the note of G, and the major third, the note of G#. The most difficult thing about this riff is performing the shuffle correctly. A shuffle feel is where we take an eighth note rhythm, and displace it, so that the down beat lasts longer that the up beat, giving it a swing feel.
Our riff features one of Stevie’s signature sounds where by the up stroke of our shuffle is performed with percussive mutes. This is very hard to control whilst trying to keep the notes of the riff on the down beat clean and clear. The riff continues by transposing to the key of A, by simply shifting across to the next group of strings. After heading back to the E riff we see our descending figure that was featured in the intro. We then head back to the E riff before concluding with a turn around figure. Our rhythm part continues with another section that kicks off with the A riff, and also includes some rhythm fill ideas.
Now let’s take a look at our solo, which is performed over the main progression, is based around the E minor pentatonic scale. We also outline the major third by including the G# note to our scale.
The solo kicks off with an ascending double stop figure that starts with a swing rhythm and builds to a triplet rhythm as the lick climbs the neck. We then have some bending licks based around the second shape of E minor pentatonic. This lick is quite hard as it involves a whole tone bend performed with your first finger. This section concludes with an E minor pentatonic lick that includes the major 3rd. We then follow the descending chord figure, by performing licks based around the relevant pentatonic based around each chord. The lick performed over the B7 and A7 chords is classic SRV, and includes both the 2nd and flat 2nd of each relevant scale. Following a bending lick we target the 2nd, but then play a fast hammer on/pull off figure between the root and the flat 2nd. When we head back to the E riff we head back up the neck to play a tricky double stop lick that pedals off of the root note at the 12th fret E, before concluding with a descending figure that follows the turn around.
The second round of solo kicks off with a cool bending figure where we bend the minor 3rd up a semi tone to a major 3rd on the B string as we pedal off notes on the top E. we then jump to A minor pentatonic with an added major 3rd over the A riff, for more bending Blues licks before resolving to some open position E minor pentatonic phrases. We then perform a double stop figure that follows the descending chords of B7 and A7, and then jumping to the G minor pentatonic. The solo concludes with a sliding tri tone figure outlining E7 before concluding with an open position E minor pentatonic lick.
There’s a lot for you to concentrate on with this study piece, with the main focus on the shuffle feel throughout the rhythm part and the solo. Also make sure that you try to inject some fire into the solo; really hit the strings and give it some attitude.
Tone wise Stevie relied on his trusty Fender Strat with gauge 13-52 strings. His amp choice was mostly Fender, using a variety of Twins, Tweeds and Vibroverbs, with a Tube Screamer pedal. For the session I use my Musicman Silhouette Special, for standard tuning I use gauge 10-52, and for Eb I use 11-54. I use my trusty 5 Watt valve head with an Xotic EP boost. For the rhythm part I used the neck pickup and for the solo the middle pickup. The sound has a medium crunch, with the bass rolled off and the mid boosted. The tone play as big part here so be sure to check out some classic SRV and try to nail his legendary Texan tone.