Our song of the day today comes from two guitar gods, though we’ll mostly be focusing on one: Stevie Ray Vaughan. His cover version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is perhaps the most accurate tribute to Hendrix ever recorded.
Our songs this week are coming straight from the vaults of music history, where the work of some of the most incredible musicians can be found. Each day’s song is decided by the events of the past tied to the same date. While in the past few weeks we’ve mostly covered the sixties, today we’re jumping into the eighties (and briefly the nineties) with a look at Stevie Ray Vaughan.
On August 27th, 1990, Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter accident after playing at the Alpine Valley Music Festival in East Troy, Wisconsin. The helicopter was headed back to Chicago with three of Eric Clapton’s crew, who were also killed.
During Vaughan’s last performance, the final song he played before the encore was his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. But before we get too far into the song, let’s get some context first. To do that, we’ll have to go back to 1984.
Couldn’t Stand the Weather
In 1984, Stevie Ray Vaughan released his second studio album, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather”. The album was a follow up to his commercially successful 1983 debut, “Texas Flood”, and peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard 200 chart. While the album was an overall success, it was criticized for not having many original songs. Regardless, the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” turned out to be a huge boon to Vaughan.
The sheer nerve it must take any guitarist to attempt a Hendrix song as technically demanding as “Voodoo Child” is alone astounding. But Vaughan proved more than capable for the task. His gritty version of the legendary Hendrix track matches it almost note for note, and absolutely captures the energy and skill of Jimi.
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
If it wasn’t already clear, Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan. Of the many artists who have covered Hendrix songs, Vaughn’s version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is one of the most authentic tributes to the greatest guitarist who has ever lived.
In a 1984 interview with Guitar Magazine, Stevie Ray Vaughan talks a bit about the comparisons drawn between himself and Hendrix.
“I’m not really trying to sound like Hendrix. But I’m not going to avoid what I do understand about how he played. It’s valid and one of the first times in a long time when Rock music was played with soul. That was the whole thing with him. He put so much soul into it he made it come back to being real again instead of just a commercial thing.”
There aren’t many lyrics to “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, and it feels like there are even fewer in Vaughan’s cover. That could be because he extended the track to allow for more room to fit his extended, improvised solo, showcasing the differences between himself and Hendrix. It’s where Vaughan goes off-book, and it’s both refreshing, and an exemplary display of his style as a guitarist.
Though I love Vaughan’s cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and do think it’s an authentic tribute to one of his idols, the way some critics have used it to lift Vaughan up grinds my gears a bit. One thing I’ve seen written over and over, is that Vaughan ‘took a rock song and made it bluesy’, something to that effect.
Now, the problem I have with that, is that it insinuates that Jimi Hendrix was not a blues player (which he absolutely was). “Voodoo Child” is straight up Delta blues filtered through Hendrix’s virtuosity. I don’t mean it as a dig to Vaughan, but the reason he was even drawn to Hendrix in the first place was because he played blues. Sorry. That’s just a little something that was bothering me.
All that being said, I genuinely think that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is a true and honest tribute to Hendrix, not Vaughan trying to us it to leverage a wider fan base.
Well, that about does it for today. I hope you enjoyed listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song from the archives of music history to help get you through the rest of the week.