Death of Stevie Ray Vaughan
|Date||1:00a.m., August 27, 1990|
|Location||Alpine Valley Resort, East Troy, Wisconsin|
|Burial||August 30, 1990 in Laurel Land Cemetery, Dallas, Texas|
Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American guitarist who gained worldwide fame as one of the founders of Double Trouble. He was killed in the crash of a helicopter piloted by Jeff Brown on the side of a ski hill at Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin on Monday, August 27, 1990; Vaughan had just performed at the resort's amphitheatre with Double Trouble. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, where it was stated that all of the victims were killed immediately. Shortly after local news stations reported Vaughan's death, crowds gathered at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas for a candlelight vigil. He was buried on August 30, 1990, at the Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas.
On the morning of August 26, 1990, Vaughan told his band and crew members about a horrible nightmare in which he was at his own funeral and saw thousands of mourners. He felt "terrified, yet almost peaceful." Backstage after the show that evening, the musicians talked about playing together again, particularly with Eric Clapton for a series of dates at London's Royal Albert Hall in February and March 1991, as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Moments later, Peter Jackson, Clapton's tour manager, said that the weather was getting worse and they had to leave soon. According to Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, Vaughan's last words to him were, "I love ya."
Dew was settling on the windshields of the four helicopters waiting to transport the performers back to Chicago. Stevie Ray, his elder brother Jimmie Vaughan, and his wife Connie made their way to their reserved helicopter, a Bell 206B Jet Ranger booked by Omniflight Helicopters and manned by Jeff Brown, a 42-year-old veteran pilot. Peter Jackson, one of Clapton's tour managers let Vaughan know that three seats were reserved for himself, Jimmie, and Connie. Upon arrival, they discovered that their seats had been taken by members of Clapton's crew, agent Bobby Brooks, bodyguard Nigel Browne, and assistant tour manager Colin Smythe. Vaughan, wanting to get back to Chicago, asked Jimmie and Connie if he could take the last seat, saying "I really need to get back.". They obliged and caught the next flight in Lake Geneva with Layton and Jimmie's manager, Mark Proct.
At 1 a.m., the helicopters departed in dense fog at two-minute intervals. Jeff Brown, occupying the right seat in the cockpit, guided the helicopter off the golf course, remaining at a high speed and slightly lower altitude than the others. It banked sharply to the left and crashed into the side of a 300-foot-high ski slope, about 0.6 miles (0.97 km) from takeoff. All on board were killed instantly. With no fire or explosion, the bodies and debris were scattered over an area of 200 square feet (19 m2). Nobody was aware of the crash until the helicopter failed to arrive at its destination the next morning.
At 7 a.m., an Air Force search helicopter, carrying sheriff's deputies, found the wreckage, which was 50 feet (15 m) below the summit of the hill. Shortly after, Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan were called to the morgue to identify the bodies. According to an autopsy report, Vaughan had suffered many unsurvivable injuries, such as transection and dissection of the aorta, multiple depressed skull fractures, ruptured spleen and liver, along with fractures of the right thigh bone and ribs. An investigation found that no drugs or alcohol were involved, and all victims had worn seatbelts. No part malfunction was found in the investigation. Pilot Jeff Brown had many hours of experience operating the Bell 206B at night. However, he had an instrument rating for flying airplanes at night with dense fog, not helicopters. The cause of the crash was that Brown simply did not see the hill and flew the helicopter full speed into the hillside due to low visibility.
Vaughan's death triggered an outpouring of grief and shock around the world. The album Family Style was released in September 1990 and became Vaughan's best-selling non-Double Trouble album; it was the only collaboration that he recorded with Jimmie Vaughan. On August 30, 1990, Vaughan was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas. Funeral services were held, with over 1,500 people attending and 3,000 more outside the chapel. His fiancée, Janna Lapidus, Jimmie and Martha Vaughan were in attendance. Among the other mourners were Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Nile Rodgers.
Omniflight, the helicopter's owner, was sued by Martha and Jimmie Vaughan for being negligent in allowing the unqualified pilot, Jeff Brown, to fly a helicopter and taking off in dense fog. The wives of Clapton's bodyguard, Nigel Browne, and assistant tour manager, Colin Smythe, received more than $2 million in settlements.
Memorials and tributes
Jimmie Vaughan later co-wrote and recorded a song in tribute to his brother, along with other deceased blues guitarists, titled "Six Strings Down." Bonnie Raitt's 1991 album Luck of the Draw was dedicated to him. Many other artists recorded songs in remembrance of Vaughan, including Eric Johnson, Tommy Emmanuel, Buddy Guy, Steve Vai, and Wayne Perkins. Stevie Wonder, whose "Superstition" Vaughan covered, honored him with "Stevie Ray Blues" on his 1995 live album Natural Wonder. Musicians such as Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mark Tremonti, Chris Duarte, Colin James, Los Lonely Boys, Mike McCready, Eric Johnson, Orianthi, John Petrucci, and Doyle Bramhall II have cited Vaughan as an influence.
An annual motorcycle ride and concert in Dallas Texas benefits the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund. The city of Austin erected the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Statue at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake, the site of a number of his concerts. It has become one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Since 1998, St. Louis has hosted an annual Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Concert around Thanksgiving featuring local musicians. In 2000, Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He also became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2008, residents voted to rename Dallas' Industrial Boulevard, with Vaughan's name being one of the finalists alongside Stanley Marcus, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and César Chávez.
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