The Stevie Ray Vaughan School of Business

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Last week, my buddy, Charlie Gilkey of, asked me to share my top 3 or 4 marketing and business posts with him. I sent him a link or two from my blog, a handful from others…and a link to the below video of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Lenny.”

My question to you is…why? Why did I include the video of Stevie?

Because, as I mentioned to Charlie, if you get what’s really happening in it, you don’t need to get or do anything else. It has every lesson on business and especially marketing all wrapped up into one 8 minute and 32 second teaching moment of bliss. Actually, my email to Charlie was a bit more blunt, what I said to him was, “Do this, screw everything else.”

So, I’ll circle back to you…what’s the “this” I’m talking about?

  • Why does this short video capture nearly everything you ever needed to know about succeeding in business beyond your wildest dreams?
  • What does it teach you about product development, marketing, positioning, branding, mission, culture, passion, teambuilding, problem-solving, differentiation, ideation, innovation, communication, process, impact, responsiveness, storytelling, service and all those other buzz words?
  • And, how does it slice past the buzz and get to the core of what matters and what works?

Share your thoughts in the comments…

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49 responses

49 responses to “The Stevie Ray Vaughan School of Business”

  1. Kirk Hoffman says:

    I regularly revisit YouTube videos of Jimi Hendrix for the very same reason.

    Do that, and screw everything else.

    A couple of phrases that come to mind:

    – Passion in action
    – Give
    – Communicate
    – Self-expression

    Truly inspiring.
    – Risk and resolution

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, I spend some time with Jimi as well. Dead on with some of those lessons. Thanks!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Seshu, Michael Jones, Robin Gerhart, kurio's resource and others. kurio's resource said: The Stevie Ray Vaughan School of Business […]

  3. Dawna Jarvis says:

    Thanks for that inspirational song. My husband toured with Stevie in the early 90’s and he was as nice a guy as they come.

    His business inspiration is to always be yourself and stick to your strengths. You must also be willing to be soft and subtle sometimes in your marketing.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Man, I can’t even imagine the stories your husband has. I’ve heard the same thing about him a few different sources. And, that’s one of the lessons. How you treat the people you surround yourself with resonates on so many levels. And, yeah, the ability to be so in touch with your “market” that you can switch from soft and subtle to soaring and fierce in the blink of an eye in order to create the level of impact needed to blow peoples’ minds and peel open their hearts.

  4. Dameian Lott says:

    Alright, alright. I’ve been holding off on following you Johnathan because (a) everyone already retweets 90% of what you write and (b) I already follow enough people who have their mouths held ever so slightly open in their profile pictures (you’re on notice @unmarketing and @jaybaer)… but you’ve won me over with this post. Excellent point made in a very compelling way. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Mark says:

    Wow, as a B2B communicator and a longtime SRV fan, I love this post, Jonathan. To answer your questions…

    #1 – Because Stevie and Double Trouble went out and went from nothing to international success playing by their own rules, and not changing a formula that works (I don’t think adding Reese Wynans on keyboards later on detracted from their signature sound, but enhanced it…like adding a highly value-added employee).
    #2 – That’s a lot of buzzwords to answer to, but I think team building, passion, communication and storytelling stand out. If you’ve seen the El Mocambo performance DVD, in the extras Chris Layton talks about how SRV was the same guy onstage and off…that speaks to authenticity, which every business leader can learn and benefit from.
    #3 – I would answer this by saying that SRV and DT did a better job than most bands of playing for each person in the audience, because at the core they were playing for themselves. I also have a 3-CD, 1-DVD SRV box set, and there are a number of stories in the liner notes that talk about SRV staying at the club and playing into the early hours of the morning, sometimes just by himself after all other musicians had left. If that doesn’t transcend buzz to truth, I don’t know what does.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love the lessons you pulled from the video, spot on with all three. Mission critical and pulled off with stunning effect.

  6. I was JUST discussing this very video with a friend last week! Not in any ‘learn all about business from this’. Just that’s it’s awesome. My friend – being the bigger music person than I – let me know “Lenny as well as being the name of his exwife is also the
    name of the guitar he is playing for that tune.”

    As for your question as to how I see it applies to all the terms you listed. Hrm.

    It just IS. All those buzzwords and terms and how it applies – is that it doesn’t concern itself with any of them. It just IS.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, and more of the back story… Back in 1980, at the age of 26, he wrote a love song to his wife, Lenora, after she rallied 7 friends to chip in $50 each to buy him a 1965 Stratocaster guitar he’d ogled in a shop window. Legend has it, he wrote the entire song for her after she went to bed that night and played it for her the next day. And, she was left in tears the first time she heard it…and every time since.

  7. Completely lost (present, immersed, swept up) in the moment. Authentic, open, un-guarded. Giving. Doing what he was born to do. Raw and uncensored expression. Extending that moment of bliss way longer than most of us usually allow or train ourselves to do. A reminder that there are countless hidden hours of ‘doing the work’ that allow for those pure, true moments.

    Thanks, Jonathan. Love live SRV.

  8. Shann says:

    In the flow of a deep spiritual and soulful moment…

  9. Stacey Hood says:

    Growing up in Texas and being involved in the music scene there, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet SRV, share a few beers with him from time-to-time. He and his brother, Jimmie Vaughn, were great guys, as were a lot of those guys that came out of the scene back then.

    Stevie to me, always played from the heart and with passion. Music was the wife he never left. You could tell, even when he was battling personal demons of drugs and alcohol, playing was his life-force. His playing asked a lot of questions and it also answered a lot of questions. If you listen to those passages, he’s doing a call and answer.

    The playing and techniques he’s using offers a lot to novices (sharing) to aspire to and learn(education). The overall song offers his heartfelt emotions(transparency), while the performance offers these emotions and artistry (engagement)between SRV and the audience.

    Personally, there’s been no other artist that touches me in so many ways than SRV. I think Shawn summed it up perfectly when he said, that the song and SRV just “is”….I agree wholeheartedly.

    With that said, I hope I answered your questions, Jonathan…thanks for sharing a love of SRV.

  10. Sharon says:

    Do it with love.
    Devote it to love.
    [heart] Stevie Ray Vaughn.

  11. Corey Kimball says:

    I’ve loved SRV for years. Look at his face and body while he’s playing. That guitar is an extension of his soul!

    He is TOTALLY focused on this one thing, and nothing else. It’s who he is, it’s WHAT he is, it’s his very being!

    The house could catch fire and he would keep playing. His bandmates would have to drag him from the stage.


  12. […] listens.  Other widely networked bloggers, are making similar statements.  Notables include: Jonathan Fields, who sometimes breaks from business blogging to discuss SRV, while making it seem perfectly relevant […]

  13. Andy says:

    The man had SOUL.

  14. earl veale says:

    Watching him play was wonderful. Thank you for that.
    I think these four items were present within his performance.
    – Do what you love.
    – Do it with passion.
    – Do it your way.
    – Be the best you can be.

  15. Sean says:

    I think everyone else nailed it in the comments: passion.

    You don’t have to live your life the way society thinks you do. If you have a love and desire to do something, anything and make it your life, you can. You just have to be passionate enough.

    This holds true for any hobby or any interest, although this is one of hell of a representation. I remember when I was 16 I spent hours practicing “scuttle buttin'” and once I finally got it, man I felt like I could do anything.

    I wasn’t quite passionate enough to devote my life to it, but I’ve certainly followed a similar path in my life.

    Do the things you love, screw everything else. About as simple as it gets.

    Thanks for the nice break with the video!

    • Nancy says:

      At first I was mystified, but after listening a bit and reading the comments I understand the passion and devotion that breed personal success. In fact, last night I mentioned my plan and said, “I am going to do this because this is what I love and I know it will work.”

      Thank you for this most timely post. And thanks to Stevie Ray Vaughan for sharing his passion.

  16. Lisa Baldwin says:


    I see someone who has surrendered completely to his art and to the moment.


  17. Kate Smith says:

    I do think that the previous comments got it right. I thought I could add someone else to inspire: The Avett Brothers. Their passion for their music and their audience is obvious even in their youtube videos. I’ve seen them in 3000+ venues, and at a 100 degree outdoor festival as one of 7 in the crowd. These guys gave it their all in both shows, and won my respect forever. I’ll buy anything they put out.

  18. Michael Weiss says:

    SRV was the embodiment of music. He felt it on a level deeper than anyone else I have ever witnessed. It flowed from his heart, through his fingers, to the strings, into our ears and right to our hearts. He made the ultimate connection with his audience. He made us believe. As a guitarist (yes I play) you cannot ask for anything better. As a marketer (yes I am one of those too) we strive for that real connection every day.

    Lenny was a song he wrote for his wife – you can hear the love in every note.

    Steve Vai once said you have to make faces, make big movements, act insane on stage. From a marketing perspective that makes sense – do something big and the audience will go “Ahhhh” an they will “buy it” – but eventually the audience will know you are faking it and you will begin to lose them (a note: Steve Vai is a mechanical genius on the guitar). With SRV he never faked it. How can you fake real passion and emotion? You simply can’t.

    I cried my eyes out the day he died. Why? Because I knew at that moment we would never see anyone of that caliber ever again – and we haven’t.

  19. Oh man, Jonathan that’s too easy…

    The wisdom… wear a big hat, play a beat out Strat and smoke to your hearts desire cause you ain’t living forever!


    OK… Kidding! Kidding…

    Being as strong an SRV fan as there is on the planet, having enjoyed the tremendous pleasure of witnessing him live five times at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater from first five rows, I didn’t need to see Lenny to know this clip–but I watched in any way for the shear joy of it.

    What’s this clip of SRV teach us about all of the aforementioned skills… well, here’s what I get:

    – make it real… no “trying” to be what you think you need to be. Make it ALL BEING what you truly are.

    – Play it with heart… bring your best and share your self, authentically.

    – Do it your way, not how others do or following some formula. What connects with and inspires others is the live out loud vivid truth and soul of another person (which is why so much ‘modern music’ leaves me sleepy or nausiated today).

    – Set it up with meaning, people want to know where you are coming from, where this came from…

    – give it in a language that moves more than the brain. Inspire the heart and soul… even with copy or writing, know that words, like music, have a rhythm and when your rhythm is broken people lose it.

    – have some style

    – don’t be afraid to sweat a little… or lot.

    – things look more real when they’ve been beat on a little, having some mileage like SRV’s Strat.

    – make it easy to share: Music is wonderfully viral…

    – gather an audience that is involved, the wants what you’re “playing” regardless of size. an engaged, sneezer group is more powerful and important than a large group of zombies.

    – don’t be so modest you fail to recieve the appreciation / applause. Be honest with yourself that you want to be appreciated, seen… and stand up and take a bow when the time is right. It’ll fuel the soul.

    – Do what you love, not what you need: Find that thing you can’t not do, vs. doing what you need to get what you want. SRV played soul before he was born. He didn’t ask for it, it chose him. How many of us can say we are as in line with soul purpose…

    Yes, BE ON PURPOSE… yours, not your parents, your ego’s…

    Do what you love, the money, fame and even better things will come…

    There’s the top 10 or so… I have at least 50 more ready to roll…

    Thanks for sharing JF!

    And for anyone who needs a reminder on what it sounds like the PLAY… hit track 2 on this classic CD… well, they all work!

  20. Mike says:

    You can be “in the zone” in sports. You can be “in the zone” in your career. I noticed something long ago about SRV: you can be “in the zone” in music. Clapton once commented about how it was like Stevie had an open line from heaven right into his fingertips. Stevie Ray is a beautiful example of how when you tap into your passion, it creates an impressive feedback loop – what you pour into it increases exponetially.

    Not coincidentally, “Lenny” has been my ringtone for as long as I’ve had a cell phone. I used to wake my bride up on weekends playing it on the stereo. Lots of good vibes with this one!

  21. Richard says:

    The ZONE: he was IN IT, man!
    TONE… that may not mean a lot to non-guitarists; but google Tonequest and you’ll get a picture of what it is.
    BEST: the Best In The World. Even Eric Clapton envied SRV.
    LOVE! Love for his wife, love for his instrument, love for his gift, love for life, love for the Creator who granted them (life and the gift) to him…
    I have never seen that performance. Thanks for sharing.
    RIP Stevie!

  22. Werner says:

    I just can’t believe it’s been 20 years this August since the world lost SRV.

    He put it ALL out there.

  23. AVV says:

    WoW, beauty and poetry in motion.

    At the end of the day you need to decide that if you can’t put this amount of passion in what you do for a living, should you be doing it? You can’t buy this kind of passion, quality and teamwork, but if you are loving what you do, this all comes naturally, organically and with the most lovely vengeance 😉

    Beautiful start to your day, play it every morning as your inspiration anthem.

  24. Passion won’t get you there without thousands of hours of hard work.

    I’m a big believer in passion. But I never learned to play music until I put in the time.

    Imagine how many 10,000s SRV had before he even wrote that, let alone performed it that specific instance. Play 6 hours a day (dunno about Stevie, but Chet Atkins did) and you’ll rack up 10K every 5 years.

    The man started with passion and certainly had a gift.

    But he worked it. Long and hard, like it was all there was.

  25. Tom Bentley says:

    C’mon Jonathan, it’s obvious why you posted the video of Stevie: you’d been videoing YOURSELF pulling out a soulful lick on your ax with a dangling cig, but the smoke kept getting in your eyes and the squinting didn’t look cool. Stevie embodied real, and thus cool.

    Passion, love, unscripted moments, candor, genuineness, art, emotional openness, generosity—there’s a whole lotta goodness in that piece (and a stylish hat helps too).

    Thanks for a timeless moment, and a timeless lesson.

  26. Jonathon, I hope you’re not fishing for some cliche like “passion” because you’re a yogi and would know better.

    Vaughn’s seemingly effortlessly expressive guitar playing is a result of a mastery-level dedication to practicing the instrument, single-minded focus, and the dedication to playing, predominantly, in one style only. Within what he knew how to do he was at the top of the game, a specialist with many tricks in his bag.

    What we see is masterful, expressive, passionate, but also the result of years and years of hard work and sacrifice.

    Vaughn also managed to position himself as a predominant player in one style, in a market niche that is, due to the large number of people who like this style of music, more lucrative than some other styles. I’m sure the money in playing blues/rock at the top of the game wasn’t a factor in his career choice, but he probably made a much larger income per year than, for example, the top Hawaiian slack-key guys or somebody like Bob Brozeman.

    I admire Vaughn’s playing but if you wanted to show musician’s who really GET the business side of things, you should have featured KISS. I don’t like their music but the band was created as a business, not a vehicle for art. They chose one of the most lucrative music niches, pushed the boundaries, and carved out a unique position.

  27. Anything or anyone that has the ability to send tingles down my spine like SRV…wow.

    If you can do that for your audience…you’ve got something. Damn.

  28. Total mastery is what that’s all about. I speak as a professional musician who in rare fleeting moments has glimpses of it – but that guy was just plugged into the mains.

    Beyond that, he’s completely and utterly himself, as clear and true as it’s possible to be as an artist. Not grasping at possible identities and trying them on for size.

    The confidence that comes from that is palpable – not arrogance, not false humility (I wrote a whole post about this a while ago – it’s at if anyone’s interested) but the confidence of being totally In The Zone and knowing it.

  29. S – sincerity
    R – rapport
    V – vitality

    The man was a true master and is my fave player ever, even above Jimi.

    I still remember with complete awe the first time I heard him. It was the Cold Shot video – with the hospital scenes.

    It was that mazy riff with the sublime sliding solo both showed he was an absolute master of his profession. It still sends a shiver down my spine. (The video was funny too).

    And in Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon (ex Johnny Winter BTW) he had a wonderful foundation that kept the business
    solid and moving forward.

  30. Yup so many of the above as well as my favourite purpose quote;
    “what I do is me, for that I came”
    Gerald Manley Hopkins

  31. I’m going to say something a little bit different (I think; I only scanned some of the comments though I read some in full). I read this first thing today, hot off the press. I listened half-way through.

    I shrugged. He’s good. I know that. And? What does anyone know about him unless someone really knows him? I don’t mean to be a smart-aleck in the least; I’m just being honest.

    Did he reach his goals? Was he happy? Self-fulfilled? Did he do everything he wanted to do? Or whatever. He may have–I don’t know. I don’t really know his music very well and I know nothing about him (who does? Except his close family and friends); he’s just always been there in the background somewhere for me; the standard of this or that. Something for me to get to one of these days; as much as I love music of many kinds, he has never been on my top list of things to listen to (maybe my bad, I don’t know), and certainly many people have never heard of him–of course he wasn’t any popular success–that I know of. He’s always felt “underground” to me; part of my 80s or 90s or something punk life or whatever. Then again, I haven’t had a lot of time to dig that deep. My latest passion is Muse.

    So? What does that cigarette hanging out of his mouth teach me about business? His talent is awesome as far as guitar playing goes–that I know because I know music well enough. He’s so in the moment in this video, like I am when I’m skating or singing or writing or playing my own guitar (of course nowhere near as good as he plays, no comparison by any stretch) but….and? What were his goals? Did he reach them? I don’t see what he can teach anyone about business from this video.

    ~shrug~ Total mastery, great. Lots of practice. Excellent. And? That’s good business? Is that all there is to it?

    Respectfully and all that and no offense intended, of course, just offering up kind of a question. I’m puzzled.

    • Wasn’t a popular success? I direct you to a partial list of his awards from his peers:

      Did he reach his goals? A brief review of any information written by his peers will tell you that he lived for his music, and is still considered an absolute master of the single most important thing in his life.

      Mastery of the most important thing in your life—I have to consider that a worthwhile business lesson. In fact, it is the most important business lesson. Be the best in the world, or don’t bother.

      • Thanks for the info, Joel. Was or was not a “popular success” really isn’t a measure of greatness anyway, though I meant he wasn’t very well-known in the general culture. I’ve only known about him because of having a foot in certain circles–musicians etc–outside of those circles, nobody I know has ever heard of him. Though that’s no measure of anything, anyway.

        Be the best in the world or don’t bother? Guess most of us ought to kick back then lol Didn’t he have serious drug problems? What were his finances and bookkeeping like? I mean the stuff behind the scenes that we can’t see unless we knew him or do research. How much more could he have achieved if it weren’t for the drug issues? I don’t know details, I’m just saying.

        I can’t knock mastery and focus and being really, really good at what you do and all that good stuff nor would I want to. That’s a biggy. But there’s more to business than that. How many artists have achieved post-mortem success? Writers, painters etc who were the best at what they did and devoted their entire lives to it? How many talented musicians or artists–or anyone else–have floundered for lack of business skills or social contacts or whatever, even if they were equally focused?

        Mastery is definitely a good thing, and that’s a great lesson here, but…so much other stuff going on in business as well, seems to me.

  32. Jonathan Fields says:

    You guys always blow me away with the gift of your comments. Spot on in so many ways. Work ethic, consistency, driven by purpose/passion/muse.

    And, on a bigger scale, one of the bigger business lessons is that marketing isn’t something you bolt on after the product is created, which is how it happens in most businesses. It can be, but when you do it that way, you generally have to invest a ton more in keeping the engine alive and the moment you stop feeding that engine, it sputters and stalls.

    Whereas, when you see marketing as simply the logical extension of product development, your quest becomes to create something that not only immensely rewarding for yourself, but stunning, downright remarkable, for any others with even the remotest interest.

    When your quest become to create something that delights from the very beginning, and then you go and do that very thing, the “marketing” becomes largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. People can’t shut up about how blown away they are by who you are, what you’ve created and how it’s impacted their lives.

    And, I love that the example of KISS was brought up, because they appear to represent the closest thing to a business-venture that music has seen. But…not really. KISS was never about the quality of the music, the members all readily admit that. But, it WAS about the mad quest to create a level of theater that consistently blew peoples’ minds. They weren’t so much about the music or the cash as they were about the quest to tantalize and delight using damn near any means necessary.

    Full circle, though. Marketing begins the moment you pick the guitar, you begin to turn ideas into action or solutions into products and services. Done right, it’s an organic, necessary part of conception, birth and evolution…not something you bolt on once the product is nearing readiness for sale.

    • JF,

      Love the “it’s who you are…” I write a lot about that concept in Strength for LIFE, about the magic, the strength, the freedom is released when you can stop “doing fitness” and start “being fit.” For it’s on who you are being.

      There’s something else here that rises up in the KISS vs. SRV examples… business is business… and we can all salute success. It’s a win in most people’s books. Great…

      But SRV was never trying to “win” at that game… he was winning in finding a way to release that which he couldn’t let sit inside for it would kill him.. it was to “be” in the moment…to express a part of his soul.

      And it’s in “being” vs. “winning” where I think you swap “span” for “depth.” The span of mass is attractive and they are prone to jump on anything with long blonde hair and big things… but depth tends to be reserved to those more alert, more discerning , more selective about the experience. Not better, just different.

      The depth as Seth will tell you will carry you far. The span is more prone to spreading you far and when it succeeds, it can give you what you want, if that’s wealth… but rarely will it bring the satisfaction, the shear pleasure which is the essence of life.

      I leave you with a thought from Clapton… during the SRV memorial concert, Eric in speaking about Stevie, said, “He had that thing… something that simply awed me, that I knew and know I don’t have… he channeled… he was the music. it came through him without thinking, it was straight, direct line to ‘the power’… me, on my best moments I still have a mind and I still think about every note and that’s something I have always known I would never have.”


  33. Joel Libava says:


    Awesome! I knew we had some more stuff in common!

    I jam to SRV, JIMI, and some serious Zeppelin, when I’m in the need of motivation. Watching folks that were (are) the best in the business, is always inspiring.

    One more thing;

    Go to YouTube and find SRV’s Texas Flood-the long version.

    Trust me, J

    The Franchise King®

  34. Rob says:

    Incredible… and makes me want another old stratocaster.


    Full of passion, full of integrity. Full of authenticity.

  35. […] The Stevie Ray Vaughan School Of Business […]

  36. […] The Stevie Ray Vaughan School of Business […]

  37. Barry Zeto says:

    The video is SRV playing guitar with the supreme skill he developed, but he’s playing the Blues….that’s all he ever played. The men that pioneered that style deserve the credit. They made their own rules. They were the ones that truly created something. SRV’s style channeled a lot of Hendrix, even Hendrix didn’t play the blues all the time, think Crosstown Traffic or Foxy Lady. That man was a force.

  38. I loved watching and listening to this wonderful video – and knowing that I was doing so via your blog, Jonathan, made it all the sweeter. Brilliant! The perfect re-frame for a blow-your-mind level of freshness of perspective. Taking it in on Youtube’s main page just would not have been the same.

    As for Stevie’s School of Business, it all comes down to clear, memorable branding:

    -same hat with the buckles every time
    -well-worn, battle scar-ridden Stratocaster, as many mentioned, with the unmistakable tone
    -the deft skill at building a solo through several layers and textures, with a rising then falling dynamic, then bringing it all back


    -playing his music for the one he loves (works every time)

    Thanks for highlighting this performance and re-invigorating the context, Jonathan!