Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Riviera Paradise


I do not remember the first time I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final track on what would turn out to be his final studio album with Double Trouble, In Step. I loved the record immediately but Riviera Paradise felt like a flat finish to his strongest work. Then I really listened (paid close attention) to it. The slow shimmery build up and beautiful interplay between Stevie and Double Trouble is a revelation, it feels like a real breakthrough between blues and jazz. That’s even more surprising considering the general public wasn’t paying a lot of attention to either forms of music at the time. Stevie’s guitar prowess is present but he so easily shares the spotlight with keyboardist Reese Wynans that it showed Stevie had surpassed being just another guitar hero. This was a performance by a man who had an epiphany and discovered inner strength and put into his music. The songs on In Step are very personal and from my perspective they’ve taken on different meanings over time and I can’t help but associate Riviera Paradise with Stevie’s tragic death in 1990. I think about how he had overcome drug addiction and personal struggles and how he was headed in such a positive direction playing the best music of his impressive career and then he was gone. I wasn’t around for Buddy Holly’s death but this loss hit me the way I’m sure a lot of early rock fans felt when another Texan rock star was lost. I was around when Elvis died and when John Lennon was murdered but music wasn’t part of my life then so it had no effect on me. When I heard Stevie died I felt like one of those moments where the devil was getting his due like when Robert Johnson had his day of reckoning. It felt like someone had to account for this senseless death but there was no way to do it. I skipped playing Riviera Paradise for awhile it was too depressing, I forgot what joy and inspiration was in it. Little by little the song worked its way back into my consciousness and its even a track I’ve used to try to impress girls with by making it the last track of a mix CD. Now in fatherhood, Riviera Paradise takes on far deeper meaning for me. It’s the song I think about or listen to when I’ve been away for awhile and I just want to get home. I hear longing, love and commitment in this piece of music and I also find inner calm. Stevie introduced the song on Austin City Limits by saying it was dedicated to all of those who were hurting and I think it’s music that could actually heal. There aren’t many pieces of modern music that sound like art to my ears but Riviera Paradise feels like it should be part of a museum and not just on the headphones while strolling along looking at other pieces of interest. It’s a subtle work especially compared to Stevie Ray’s other better known songs but it is one that should never be forgotten.


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