Stevie Ray Vaughan was not yet a star on his 26th birthday, October 3, 1980, when his wife, Lenora “Lenny” Vaughan, gave him a worn 1965 Stratocaster® guitar that had recently caught his eye in an Austin, Texas, pawnshop. The couple had met a few years earlier at an east Austin nightspot where he was playing, and when she saw him again a couple years later, she was moved by his musical power onstage and his charmingly unassuming demeanor offstage. The next time they met, at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin, that was it. Vaughan first spotted the guitar about a year after he and Lenora were married. Originally a three-color sunburst model, it had been refurnished at some point, and now it had a dark natural finish and an elaborate design behind the bridge. At $350, he couldn’t afford it. Lenora, however, enlisted seven friends with $50 each, and bought the guitar for her husband for his birthday. That very night, as Lenora slept, Vaughan wrote a beautiful song for her, “Lenny.”
“It was beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never once in my life listened to that song without crying.” Fame beckoned. Vaughan played on David Bowie’s chart-topping 1983 comeback Let’s Dance and released the massively successful Texas Flood, the debut he’d recorded with his powerful trio, Double Trouble. He followed with the 1984 blockbuster Couldn’t Stand the Weather. Vaughan seemed to single-handedly revive blues and vault it into the spotlight.
The song “Lenny” appeared on Texas Flood and was featured regularly in concert, during which Vaughan would set aside his beloved “Number One” Stratocaster and play his “Lenny” Stratocaster. He played the Lenny Stratocaster selectively—featuring it on its namesake song, of course, and later on “Riviera Paradise” from 1989’s In Step.
By all accounts, Stevie Ray Vaughan was always friendly, warm, compassionate and comfortably self-assured. For all his utter ferocity onstage, offstage he couldn’t be any sweeter. Everybody liked him. Most loved him.
And when looking at a Stratocaster, you may be struck by the thought that no guitar is more womanly. It’s curvaceous—deliberately shaped to be held close and to respond to your hands. Maybe it’s no surprise then, to hear Lenora say that sometimes Vaughan slept at night with one arm around her and another around the guitar he named for her.
Years after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tragic death in 1990, and at older brother Jimmie Vaughan’s behest, Lenny became the only guitar from his estate to be made available to the public. At a historic June 24, 2004, Christie’s auction in New York, Lenny sold for $623,500. A hefty figure, to be sure; but can you assign such value to the effect that Vaughan and his music had on the people in his life and on the world?
Not really. After all, the story of Stevie Ray and Lenora Vaughan; of his music and of the guitar he most affectionately nicknamed for her is, first and foremost, a love story.