In Step: Review of The Return of Stevie Ray Vaughan

By: Anthony Clauson

Stevie Ray Vaughan, though often overlooked, is seen as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, playing Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and a cross between the two. Sadly, Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990. Before his death, Vaughan had a triumphant comeback with the release of the album In Step. After several years of mediocrity, Vaughan was able to rebound and create one of the greatest Blues Rock albums of all time. Seeing as it is the 21st anniversary of that fateful night, I thought to take a look back at the life and the final work of this guitar legend.  

To understand the importance of In Step you need to understand the context in which it was released. Stevie Ray Vaughan had solidified himself as an amazing guitarist with his first two albums, Texas Flood and Can’t Stand the Weather, but more recent albums to the release of In Step had been seen as more of the same and met disappointing sales and reviews. During the release of said albums, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle had taken its toll on Vaughan. Substance abuse was a common occurrence, and constant touring left him exhausted.  Vaughan couldn’t keep up with this lifestyle, and the music began to reflect that fact.  In the fall of 1986 friends and fellow musicians had an intervention with Vaughan, and he agreed to enter rehab. 

The first track on In Step is a great representation of Vaughans revitalization after getting sober.   Barely over two minutes, it’s a fast-paced, Blues-rock, to kick off the album.  The song is driven by a bebop riff backed by steady drums, and is sprinkled with high-speed keyboard, and guitar solos. “The House Is Rockin’” is the shortest track on the album but easily packs the biggest punch. This mix of hard-driving rock and Bebop Blues is the perfect hook for the great return of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The next song is the highly catchy “Crossfire.”  This tune clocks in at four minutes eight seconds, and takes things a little slower leaving more time for longer solos. This song also tells more of a story explaining the plight of someone stuck in “the crossfire” or poverty.  Overall “Crossfire” is one of the most iconic songs on the album.

After “Crossfire” we have the song “Tightrope.” “Tightrope” is equally catchy, though not as intricate as “Crossfire” before it, with less incorporated soloing. But moving at a steady pace with the main driving riff makes this track easy to fall into and start nodding your head, and tapping your feet to the rhythm.  In the middle of this almost hypnotizing song are delivered incredibly executed solos, highlighted by subtle keyboard work. This song sucks you in and guides you right on into the next song of the album.

“Let Me Love You Baby” is the next song we have on In Step, and it continues to deliver on the impressive instrumentals of the album. This track reeks of the early Austin Texas Blues scene from which Vaughan first began to show and emerge as an. The whole song feels like a callback to Vaughan’s earlier hits when he was first emerging as a headliner artist. This song feels distinctly similar to “Pride and Joy” one of the most well-known Stevie Ray Vaughan songs of his first album Texas Flood, both being fast-moving, Texas Blues, love songs, with similar instrumentals. 

Going on from here is “Leave My Girl Alone” which takes a sharp turn from all the previous songs on In Step so far. This song takes a much slower approach and is primarily guitar solos, and instrumental work. It also helps act as a breath of fresh air for the album, taking a break from some of the faster and more rock-oriented songs. It helps the listener not get burnt out on similar tracks, almost in similar fashion as the album, a breath of fresh air in Vaughan’s career.

There isn’t too much to say about “Travis Walk”. This next track is a full instrumental and sticks out like a sore thumb. Unlike all the other songs on In Step Vaughan doesn’t go for wild guitar solos, or employ any new instruments, or even bother writing lyrics. It’s a simple yet memorable song, and its funky sound makes it an essential part of the album although it is often overlooked.

Up next on In Step, we have “Wall Of Denial.” “Wall Of Denial” goes back to the formula of “Leave My Girl Alone” of a slower Blues song clocking in at five minutes and thirty-five seconds.    “Wall Of Denial ” is much more than a simple slow and sad Blues song though. “Wall Of Denial” feels like Vaughan reflecting on why this album is a comeback in the first place. It feels like Vaughan looking back at his addictions with drugs and alcohol. The “Wall Of Denial” is the denial that he was addicted in the first place, and the song acts as a recognition of that chapter in his life.

The next two songs, “Scratch-N-Sniff” and “Love Me Darlin’”, can be talked about together.  Both of these songs are faster swinging Texas Blues tunes. Both continue to show the brilliant guitar work of Vaughan and are great tracks in their own right. But tracks really help set up for the next song, and final song in the album. These songs help as a transition into the final act of Vaughan’s creative vision. They help act as high, and build up before a low of the final song, concluding the album and sending off. They build you for the sharp contrast that is “Riviera Paradise.”

“Riviera Paradise” is the longest song on the album at eight minutes and forty-eight seconds.  This song serves as the final act of the song sending off the listener in a slow, fully instrumental track meant to wish you away. “Riviera Paradise” feels like stumbling into a private jam session with only Vaughan and his guitar, and part of what gives it that feeling is that it almost is. This song was improvised in the studio one night as they were wrapping up a recording. It serves as a window into the soul of Stevie Ray Vaughan and allows you to connect with him like nothing else on the album.

And with that In Step comes to an end. The record would go on to be produced and help revitalize the career of one of the greatest guitarists of all time.  And not 15 months later, on August 27th, 1990, Vaughan would die in a helicopter crash. Thus concluding the life and work of Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Edited by Zeke Ewing and Andrew Zies