It doesn’t take a person long to realize Maurice John Vaughn is a blues man.
With his raspy voice casually lingering from one word to another, the way he speaks hints to the soulful, earthy quality his voice takes on when he sings.
I love the music. I love to play and make people happy, Vaughn says by phone from his home in Michigan City. I want them to enjoy themselves. I think it’s better than handing somebody their tax return – what I’m doing is a lot more fun. We seem to be pretty good at it.
Vaughn will perform at The Philmore on Broadway today, bringing along a catalogue of original songs that includes his teasing single, Generic Blues Band, and the thoughtful Suicide is Not the Way.
A Chicago native, Vaughn is a well-recognized session and live musician who has performed with top Chicago blues performers Luther Allison, Son Seals and A.C. Reed. Playing the guitar, keyboard and saxophone for 45 years, he has performed for Isaac Hayes, B.B. King and President Bill Clinton.
Vaughn says he knew he wanted to be a musician since the day he joined the school band at age 11.
I started playing the snare drum, and then I started to play everything in the percussion section. I credit my band teacher because he was real strict and he knew what he was doing. He didn’t let you fool around, Vaughn says. He got me serious about music.
By the time Vaughn entered high school, the percussion section had been filled, so he took up the clarinet. In 1968, he met a couple of musicians, looking for someone to play saxophone in their jazz trio. Vaughn says he was loaned a saxophone from his school to practice, and four months later, he was ready to join the band, the Gents of Soul. His first professional gig was a high school dance.
Blues really came along later, he says. We were playing disco, soul and Top 40 music. We ran into a couple of blues players; some are still around today like Smilin’ Bobby, Johnny Dollar and Lefty Diaz, but they wouldn’t ask for any extensive schedules – they just asked what you were doing Thursday and there you go, you’re playing some blues.
Vaughn says he immersed himself in blues in 1979 when he had the opportunity to play with Phil Guy, brother of legendary blues artist Buddy Guy, on a Canadian tour.
After the tour, he started playing on Chicago’s blues circuit, independently releasing his first album, Generic Blues Album, in 1986. Vaughn currently tours with his band of long-time friends Nathaniel B.J. Emery, Kenneth Pickens and Harvey Martin Sr.
I actually wrote Generic Blues’ in 20 minutes because I needed a title song for the CD, so I was just saying, although almost nobody knows our name, but we’re just as good as those other people,’ he says before reciting one of the song’s lines. I may not be a big name star, but I sing the blues for you wherever you are.’
When it comes to songwriting, Vaughn says he is inspired by the snapshots of experiences that have happened to him or to his friends. A Computer Stole My Job on his first album explores how some of his friends felt as if their jobs were eliminated by technology. On his second album, In the Shadow of the City, Vaughn wrote Suicide Is Not the Way in response to hearing about the tragic deaths of close friends and musicians.
My songs describe what I’ve been through personally, or friends of mine, once I realized we have gone through the same thing, he says. Or people will come up to you after your performance to talk, and then you try to put yourself in their situation, he says.
Vaughn released his third album, Dangerous Road, in 2001, and he says he would like to release some new songs he has written on the road. He will be playing a new song, Help Your Fellow Man, tonight at the Philmore. It is based on his observance of Canada’s homeless population when he was on tour.
Vaughn says he would like to release his fourth album by early next year.
I’ve recorded songs, but I haven’t put it out on a CD yet. It’s kinda rough, because I will play a new song and then people say, I got to have a CD with that song on it.’ When I tell them it’s not out yet, they say, why you even play it?’ Vaughn says with a slow chuckle.
I want people to hear the music, but they’re about ready to beat me up if I don’t have it.