30 Years Ago: Stevie Ray Vaughan Kicks Off His Final Tour
On May 4, 1989, legendary Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan kicked off the final tour of his short and celebrated career. It was an 18-month affair that almost never happened.
For most of his adult life, Vaughan battled dual addictions to hard drugs and alcohol. A little more than two years before the start of his last tour, the guitarist and his band were in Europe playing in support of his third album, Soul to Soul. After a show in Ludwigshafen, Germany, Vaughan’s hard-living ways caught up with him and he had to be hospitalized for a case of severe dehydration.
A few days later he was hospitalized again in London for severe internal bleeding. The rest of the tour was immediately canceled and once he was reasonably healthy, Vaughan flew back to America and to enter a drug rehabilitation center.
In a 1988 interview Guitar World, Vaughan related about how the disease of addiction had taken full control of his life. “I would wake up and guzzle something, just to get rid of the pain I was feeling,” Vaughan remembered. “Whiskey, beer, vodka, whatever was handy. It got to the point where if I’d try to say ‘hi’ to somebody, I would just fall apart, crying and everything. It was like … solid doom.”
When he finally made the decision to get clean, he was genuinely surprised by what he discovered, not only about the prescribed program, but also about himself. In a widely circulated speech Vaughan gave to an Alcoholics Anonymous group, he said, “I didn’t expect to find out in treatment that that was one of the coolest places I’d ever been. That’s what I found out, you know. It wasn’t what I thought it was gonna to be at all. I went through the regular stuff, you know … 'What if they find out I’m in here … who’s ‘they’ … you know. And I don’t wanna be here and all that stuff, but once I started paying attention to what was going on in treatment -- to the recovery -- it’s been something that I’ve really wanted ever since.”
For the rest of his life, sobriety was something Vaughan took just as seriously as he had his music. It was something he continued to work on, something he was intensely proud of and something he wished to share with the world. In fact, he titled his next record In Step as a tip of the cap to his new-found healthy lifestyle.
Vaughan finished up the recording of his fourth studio album in March 1989 and hit the road just two months later. It was one of the most expansive tours of his life, comprising three legs and 147 shows across the United States and Canada. For 34 of the dates, Vaughan brought on another guitar virtuoso, Jeff Beck as a co-headliner in a collaboration that later won an award from Pollstar for Most Creative Tour Package.
Speaking with Guitar World again in 1989, Vaughan related the struggles he dealt with in learning to play music while sober for the first time in his life. “I thought that the hardest thing would be, ‘Oh God, now I’m straight – can I play?’ he said. "But that had nothing to do with it. The hardest part is trying to keep things in perspective. I found out that the biggest problem that I had was self-centeredness and ego. That’s what my addiction seems to boil down to. To keep that part of myself under control while everybody is telling you how great you are is quite a task.”
The tour came to a tragic, unplanned end on Aug. 27, 1990, when, after a star-studded show at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wis., Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash.