(Another post from the archives, written during my tenure as a contributor to the now-defunct WNEW.com)
On Tuesday, August 28, 1990, in Texas, the Galveston Daily News headlined the release of 52 Americans from custody in Iraq, during that uneasy summer following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reported that the rising Wapsipinicon River might exceed its record-setting levels of 1968. But in my town, Madison, Wisconsin, the top headline on the Wisconsin State Journal was this: “Clues Sought in Foggy Concert Crash.” Early Monday morning, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others had been killed in a helicopter crash after leaving a Wisconsin concert venue.
Vaughan had played a show with Eric Clapton on Sunday night at Alpine Valley Music Theater, an outdoor arena located in the countryside southwest of Milwaukee. According to the Associated Press story that appeared around the country on Tuesday, fog had reduced visibility over the area to below two miles, which requires pilots to fly by instruments rather than by sight. Vaughan’s helicopter was one of a fleet that flew away from Alpine Valley that night—according to Clapton’s manager, Roger Forrester, “We had four helicopters and Eric and I were in one directly behind it when it suddenly disappeared from vision.” According to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator at the scene, “It was a high-energy impact at a shallow angle.” Besides Vaughan and the pilot, Jeff Brown, the other three to die were members of Clapton’s entourage: his agent, Bobby Brooks, a tour manager, Colin Smythe, and a bodyguard, Nigel Browne.
By that Tuesday, some enterprising local reporters had already found local angles for the Vaughan story. In Cedar Rapids, the Gazette recounted Vaughan’s four appearances in the city between 1983 and 1990. Vaughan’s main memory of Cedar Rapids, according to the reporter, was a view of silos out of his hotel room window. (Which is how many of us remember Cedar Rapids, actually.) In Syracuse, New York, members of local blues band the Kingsnakes were quoted in a front-page article: “We bagged rehearsal when we heard the news,” T.A. James said. “It hit us like a ton of bricks.”
It hit everybody like that. . . .
Read some memories from people who attended Vaughan’s final show here.