Journal: News & Comment

Friday, October 22, 2004
# 9:01:00 AM:

The longer the better

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2005 will mark 15 years since guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash after a show. I've been re-listening to his recordings recently, and realize again what a shame it is that he's gone. B.B. King said of him:

When most of us play a 12-bar solo, we play maybe two choruses and the rest is all repetition. Stevie Ray was one of just a handful of musicians I've heard in my life—Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian come to mind—who weren't like that. The longer they played, the better they played.

Take a listen to SRV's instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Usually, guitar players who cover Hendrix are biting off more than they can chew, trying to draw on Jimi's mystique and paying tribute, but not really doing him justice. But not here. Jimi's original "Little Wing" is a short (two-minute) and tender song, one of his best and most evocative ballads. It starts with some rich, choppy rhythm guitar and ends with a brief, liquid solo.

Stevie Ray starts by seamlessly duplicating the original—his phrasing is so precise that you can't really tell which one you're listening to. Then he proves that he owns it, taking "Little Wing" for nearly seven minutes of pure guitar, with some of the most astounding tones ever captured on tape, from whisper-quiet verses to searing solos. Yet, as B.B. said, when it's over you wish it had never ended.

SRV's "Little Wing" is the kind of performance you wish Hendrix had recorded. What other guitar player would anyone even dare say that about?


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