Deciding which song was my favourite was relatively easy, although there are many songs I love, Stevie Ray Vaughan's version of Little Wing is undeniably the song that sits at the very top of my list. Determining what to do with it, however, turned out to be a considerably more difficult affair...
Initially, I had thoughts of a fantasy themed short story that would take inspiration from the lyrics of Hendrix's original version of the song but I felt like that would, somehow, be cheating; I then briefly flirted with the idea of something involving dragons (but decided that I didn't like that idea at all) before deciding upon something altogether different and a bit more personal.
Stevie, Rave On
I heard about Stevie Ray Vaughan's death before I ever heard him play.
I can still remember that night. Sitting in a car and hearing, over a crackling stereo, the news that Stevie Ray Vaughan had died in a helicopter crash and then listening as they gave the night's broadcasting over to the replaying of one of his last ever concerts. I can still remember having my breath taken away by the passion, by the sheer fire, of the playing of this man whose name had been unknown to me only minutes earlier.
When I eventually picked up the guitar, Stevie Ray Vaughan would become the biggest single influence on my playing. There was a raw honesty to his playing that I just fell in love with; it wasn't just the tone or the fluidity or the passion - it was the way that he seemed lost in the music, as if every time he got up on stage he was just a pure conduit for the blues to flow through.
Little Wing captures so much of who Stevie was in just one song; I often listen to it with my headphones on and feel as I'm being transported to the Power Station studio in New York where the track was recorded in 1984. Volume up so I can hear every subtle nuance in the unaccompanied opening section, the scraping of his fingertips on the strings as he changes hand position; listening as the track builds and builds up until Stevie's playing just takes off and soars, as he opens that conduit up and lets the music flow through him.
Eric Clapton said he listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan's penultimate gig before he died, staying for only half an hour before he had to leave "to preserve some kind of sanity or confidence in myself". And I get that. I can listen to guitarists who are technically accomplished in a hundred different ways and, while I'm impressed by what they can do, they don't touch me like Stevie's music does, don't leave me in true awe like Stevie does. Maybe it's because it feels like he pours every last drop of himself into his playing, that he holds nothing back. Little Wing holds nothing back; it is passion and grace, subtlety and savagery, all melded together into one; every note ringing out with genuine emotion.
Stevie Ray Vaughan died on August 27th, 1990, on a nondescript hillside in Alpine Valley, East Troy, Southeastern Wisconsin but his music lives on. His passion lives on. And, every time that I sit there with my headphones on and my eyes shut and I lose myself in his playing on Little Wing, in that moment, it feels like Stevie lives on...