What you’re looking at here is the liner from the very first blues album I ever owned. Released after his most untimely death, The Sky Is Crying is a collection of, at that time, Stevie Ray’s previously unreleased material. As my introduction to the blues, you could probably say it changed how I listened to music for the last twenty plus years.
It’s funny the events in life that you remember. Here was a seemingly inconsequential exchange one summer afternoon, but the effect it had on the course of my life is unmistakeable. I was working at a summer camp when I was 16 and was standing in line for lunch with my friend Mike. To this point in my life it would be a fair assessment to say I had dubious tastes in music. I had recently been on a prep school induced binge of hip hop (yeah I’m not sure I get it either) and it was this interaction that completely changed music for me.
So there were are standing in line, and Mike says to me, “Tavvy, dude, you’ve gotta listen to this cd. It’s gonna change your life.” He handed me his copy of The Sky Is Crying by Stevie Ray Vaughan, promptly reminding me that he was going to want it back. Not knowing what to expect, I put it in my CD player when I get home and was immediately hooked. It was this album full of soul, emotion, and blistering guitar solos that opened my eyes and ears, and had me listening to and thinking about music in a way I never had before. It was Stevie Ray that introduced me to the music of John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and later Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, just to name a few.
Growing up in my house, music was pretty important. My mom had, and still has a pretty eclectic taste in music. She listened to anything from jazz to, for some inexplicable reason, Def Leppard, and my dad loved classical. I remember his seemingly endless stacks of CDs of varying symphonies and concertos, and mom’s jazz and rock albums (including Pyromania on vinyl. Vinyl! Way to represent.). I can only imagine their fear and frustration when, in the eighth grade, I brought home the liner notes from a Public Enemy CD to have them read before I could buy it. In my defense, it was a great album.
As kids, they encouraged my sister and I to learn an instrument and after discovering Stevie Ray and the blues, I settled on Bass guitar. I can’t say I remember what drew me to it, but I remember very clearly standing in the Music Mall in Lowell, MA and my mom making it very clear that the bass wasn’t like lead guitar. That’s ok, I said, this is what I want to do. So she bought me my first four string bass, an Aria Pro II. I took lessons for a few years and then when life got busy I kept playing on my own. Mike, who himself was an exceptional guitar player, suggested we start playing together so with our friend Rich on the drums we started learning how to play some Stevie Ray and other blues tunes. We called the band The Porchfront Blues, and for a couple of kids from suburban Massachusetts, I’d say it sounded pretty alright.
Twenty-two years later, although I have long since lost the liner, I still have my copy of The Sky Is Crying, and my Aria Pro II. I count them among some of my most cherished possessions. Over the years I’ve played in a few bands and while I love all types of music, I consider blues to be my “home.” I stopped playing for a while and focused my efforts on learning to play jazz piano, but in recent months as I find myself navigating through another chapter in my life, I have been drawn back to my roots in rock and blues. Maybe because it’s comforting, or familiar, or maybe it’s just because sometimes life requires a loud, righteous rock and roll sound. For me that time is now.