Blues-rock legend Stevie Ray Vaughan launched a thousand guys into guitar shops, so captivating was his style. Though he died more than two decades ago, his influence can be seen even in young blues players today.
Few of his acolytes likely have the same dedication as Dave Ryan, who’s spent the last decade getting the details just right as the front man of a Toronto-based tribute band, The Stevie Ray Vaughan Experience, which plays tonight (Saturday) at the Central Tavern in Elmira.
A guitar player for more than 30 years, including a stint in a Van Halen tribute band, Ryan had an epiphany about a decade ago when he saw Vaughan’s “Live at the El Mocambo,” a DVD released in 1999 featuring a 1983 concert at the storied Toronto venue.
“My jaw dropped, and I said ‘wow, that’s what I want to do.’
“I fell in love with his music – the energy, the passion.”
What followed was the practicing, and lots of it, needed to hone Vaughan’s unique and energetic guitar sound. Twenty to 25 hours a week quickly added up to thousands of hours in the years that came after.
“An awful lot of work has gone into it,” he said of the tribute show. “I’m a perfectionist to a fault.”
His dedication goes beyond the music – a signature sound that’s inspired countless players – but extends to the details of the show itself. His hats are made by the same Texas hatter that made Vaughan’s. His guitars are replicas of those famously emblazoned with the initials SRV. And even the large blue peacock tattooed on Vaughan’s chest has a doppelganger on Ryan’s chest.
At its heart, however, his efforts are all about the playing, trying to replicate the skill that puts Vaughan on just about everybody’s list of the top 15 or 20 guitarists ever to pick up the instrument.
The time and effort have propelled Ryan and his bandmates to the highest level of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble tributes. Since taking to the stage in 2008, they’ve been working at getting to the Vegas and Atlantic City circuits.
“It’s fun. It’s going places,” said Ryan of the act. “It’s been very challenging, but rewarding.
“I joke with my friends that I’m going to the Stevie Ray Vaughan school of blues. I’m probably at a masters’ level, and I’m going for my Ph.D.”
To that end, he said he’s always pushing himself to get better. A six-second hook in the song Texas Flood from that 1983 concert probably took him a year to replicate as a playing style – “to him it just came naturally” – and that has helped make Ryan a better player while encouraging his own songwriting.
On tap for Saturday will be all of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s hits, including Pride and Joy, Crossfire, Couldn’t Stand the Weather and The House is Rockin’, along with the guitar master’s renditions of songs by Buddy Guy, Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix.
The Stevie Ray Vaughan Experience takes the stage at the Central Tavern (30 Arthur St. S.) Jan. 21. Expect the band on about 10:30 p.m. There’s a cover charge of $5.