John Vaughn’s music career has taken him all over the world. But, for now, he’s settling back in to his native Aiken.
Vaughn will be in Aiken through the winter season and is playing piano at the Willcox Inn each Friday night. It’s a venue that holds many fond memories for him.
“When the Willcox opened in the 1980s, I played there; it was one of my first regular gigs. Up to then I had played at parties and stuff like that; Aiken didn’t really have a place to play piano then, except maybe Houndslake,” Vaughn said. “I came back to Aiken in the early 2000s and played at the Willcox when they’d renovated it. I composed some of the themes on the record I’m working on now there. The Willcox is one of my favorite rooms to play in.”
He added, “My grandfather was Joe Busby, he was the county engineer, and he voted to save the Willcox when it was going to be demolished. He had the deciding vote, and I know he’d be so happy to know that the Willcox has now been selected in the top 50 in the whole world. He’d be pleased to know the hotel he helped save has done well.”
Vaughn moved from Aiken to Los Angeles to pursue his musical dreams, and on his first day in town, he got a taste of Old Hollywood glamour. While practicing on the Beverly Hills Hotel’s piano, silent screen star Charles “Buddy” Rogers found Vaughn and made a protege of him. Rogers, best known for his Oscar-winning turn in 1927’s “Wings,” invited him to stay at L.A.’s famed Pickfair mansion, originally built by Hollywood royalty Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.; Rogers was Pickford’s second husband.
While at Pickfair, Vaughn both composed his own instrumental music and worked with a rock band. He had near-misses with major record label deals both as a solo artist and with the band, but the offers fell through for one reason or another. Along the way he gained and kicked a substance abuse habit which helped derail his career momentum; after a stay in rehab, Vaughn said he has been sober for eight years now.
“I didn’t necessarily do a drug that made me high; I did drugs that made me stay awake, so I could work on my music longer,” he said. “I had signed a deal with Richard Branson, and when you’re in that pre-rehab stage, things are unpredictable. Then I had a deal with Mercury Records, and Mercury actually dissolved; my contract was out there in the air somewhere. Then I was working on a deal with Interscope, and the A&R guy I was working with got fired. That was the point where I decided to come home to Aiken for a while in the early 2000s, and while I was here, I decided it was time to go to rehab and just take care of it.”
He is now working on his first two records: a collection of his instrumentals and what he calls his “healing record,” designed for the wellness market. Vaughn spent the past year in England working on both records with British band The Flex and with music legends Shelly Yakus and Phil Brown on the production end. The “artistic” record is planned for a December release, and the “healing” record will be released as soon as mixing is complete. Vaughn hopes to market it through a cable TV service, such as QVC or the Home Shopping Network, and plans to work with Aiken massage therapist Jennifer Marranci to play the music live during her bodywork sessions by appointment.
“I discovered this by the reaction I had from people when I played. I was playing at Geordie Hormel’s house in Phoenix, and his secretary’s mother was there in a coma. While I was playing, she woke up,” he said. “I always felt in the back of my mind, this is what I should be doing instead of making rock records. I think it comes from the bond my music helps me form with people. I just know whenever I’ve been starving or needed a place to stay, someone would come along, hear my music and immediately they say, ‘Here.’”
His show at the Willcox is a mix of original pieces and American standards, such as Cole Porter songs.
“I hope people will leave very relaxed, energized; to have a musical exchange,” he said.
Vaughn can be reached through his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/john.vaughn1.
Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University. She is a native of Augusta.