Composer and producer John Vaughn shares his journey of events and magic | Entertainment
The man behind the grand piano in the lobby of the Willcox in Aiken is more than the one who produces beautiful melodies.
John Vaughn, award-winning songwriter and very creative producer of an upcoming TV show on his journey, says his entire life is surrounded by magic that has opened many doors for him and taken him across the world.
“When I was 18, right out of high school, I walked into the lobby of the Willcox in 1985 and sat down at the piano to play,” he said. “They gave me a job and I played here until 1988. My career started here on Colleton Avenue.”
Vaughn had bigger plans, however, and Hollywood was on his mind. Her grandmother gave her $ 1,000 to make it happen and $ 1,000 to come back.
“She clearly didn’t want me to go,” Vaughn said.
But, that was the start of what he calls “manifestations and magic”.
“As I walked out of the driveway of my grandmother’s house in Aiken, my friend Lillian, a waitress from The Willcox, ran to the car and said, ‘Wait, you’re going to need this! She gave me a copy of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” a score from the 1930s with Buddy Rogers on the cover. This sheet music remained in the seat next to me as I drove into California.
When Vaughn arrived in Hollywood, he moved into the Beverly Hills Hotel. Between spending the trip across the country and checking in at that expensive hotel, he was about to spend the first $ 1,000. He laughs about it now, but says he knew this was the place to make it happen.
“I walked into the ballroom around 9 am, and there was a piano on the stage and palm trees lined an aisle. I sat down at the piano and started playing. I had the valet come (another expense) to go to my car to get the partition. When he came back, I put him on the piano.
Here is the magic part. Vaughn said about half an hour later, as he continued to play, entered a well-dressed and distinguished gentleman, who was drawn to the sound of his music.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, your music is so beautiful. “”
Vaughn told the man he had just arrived from South Carolina 12 hours ago and had nowhere to go. Then at that point Buddy Rogers looked at the sheet music and said, “It’s me!”
Rogers was Mary Pickford’s third husband, and film historians note that Rogers was the third king of Hollywood, relinquishing his throne to Clark Gable.
Rogers was honored that day for a Lifetime Achievement Award and for his role in the 1927 film “Wings”, which won the very first Oscar for Best Picture. When the director of the film shot the fighter pilot scenes with Buddy, the director reflected on his own World War I experience with his co-pilot, Tommy Hitchcock from Aiken.
Vaughn has a book project called “All Roads Lead to Aiken,” and stories like this will fill its pages.
Rogers asked Vaughn if he would like to play the piano for the event that day in honor of him.
At the event in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, Rogers introduced Vaughn to the audience by saying he found out about this young man from South Carolina this morning – and “Hollywood needs him. “.
Vaughn said, “I was so naive then. As I was driving into town for the first time, not knowing where to go, I passed a restaurant / bar on the Sunset Strip called Verita’s with a sign saying Open Mike. I wondered who is Open Mike? “
Later that afternoon, it was Verita that Rogers called and said, “Get that kid a job.” “
The next day, Verita had the open mic removed from the marquee and put Vaughn’s name on the Sunset Strip.
“I became good friends with Verita Thompson, who owned this place and wrote the book ‘Bogey & Me,’ Vaughn said.“ She even drove me around town in her battered old Rolls Royce and did it. cross a four-lane intersection, shouting welcome to Hollywood! “
He added that many well-known people have walked through the doors of his club – it was the very last in old Hollywood in 1988.
“It all started at Pickfair,” Vaughn said. “Mary Pickford was the woman who helped create Hollywood and the film industry. She is the mother of Hollywood and was known around the world as the Girl with the Curls. After Paramount was built on the back of her films, she co-founded United Artists and, through her enormous worldwide fame, created celebrity culture.
Vaughn said she was one of a handful who came up with the idea of having a Film Academy. The academy’s first development meetings were held in his lounge in Pickfair.
Vaughn said that whenever Rogers spoke about her he often had tears in his eyes. They were married for 42 years until her death in 1979.
“One of my favorite memories is being in Pickfair when Sammy Davis Jr. and his wife passed by,” Vaughn said. “We knew in the area that Buddy would take his trombone and blow up a few bars of the song ‘Getting Sentimental Over You’, and the sound was traveling through the hills; behind the Beverly Hills Hotel … everyone could hear it, and it was Sammy’s call to come over for a cocktail.
“After Sammy’s death one night Buddy’s driver drove us around Beverly Hills with Sammy’s wife in her Rolls Royce and she cried softly and held my hand. It was a moment I’ll never forget, “he said.” Sometimes when I play one of his songs at The Willcox, I smile to myself and tell myself how much I was a blessed child. “
Vaughn said he reflects on the people he has met over the many songs he is playing now.
“Some of my connections are with the people who sang, produced or wrote the songs – I usually keep it to myself; it’s something that I connect with and bring out in my piano. Sometimes I play songs related to the people of the Winter Colony who used to come to The Willcox, like Fred Astair, Bing Crosby or Cole Porter. It’s like keeping the colony alive with my music.
Vaughn and his music became known, and he played the piano in the royal entourage of a Saudi prince for several years, traveling all over the world. However, in 2013 John knew it was time to come home. He learned that Alan Corey’s family had purchased the Willcox, so he called him while he was sailing in the south of France, asking for Corey’s help to get back to Aiken and the Willcox.
And new doors of opportunity have now opened for him.
Vaughn said that when Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks honeymooned in Italy in the 1920s, there was no security in place from the studios and the couple were recognized and often mobbed by crowds.
One day, she and Fairbanks took refuge in a small restaurant in Rome, where the owner, Alfredo di Lelio, helped them. He made his original pasta creation for the couple, later named fettuccine Alfredo, and Pickford was responsible for bringing the famous dish to America via Hollywood in the 1920s, Vaughn said.
Vaughn has just returned from Italy after filming for five weeks. He hosted an event for the Rome Film Festival with Alfredo’s family in honor of Mary Pickford and her friendship with Alfredo, as it was the first time Hollywood and Italy had met.
For the past three years, Vaughn has worked with Alfredo’s family and toured with them on “The FlipSide”, his show in development.
“The FlipSide is a docu-style show about me creating my various projects,” he said. “Whether it’s to record an album, create a TV show for sale or organize an event at the Venice Biennale. It’s about navigating the waters of the entertainment industry to create my projects and eventually sell them.
One of these projects involves Alfredo’s family.
“We had planned a US tour to celebrate the 100th anniversary of when Mary Pickford brought the fettuccine Alfredo to America, but the pandemic has kept us from moving forward,” he said.
Even though traveling weren’t easy this fall, Vaughn went to Italy and spent time with his family to plan the American City Tour featuring Old Hollywood and Alfredo to honor America’s most beloved Italian dish.
Prior to the pandemic, Vaughn said he helped produce and compose the music for Julie Pacino’s movie “Why Not Choose Love,” about Mary Pickford. He and Brooke Lundy from Aiken worked together on the lyrics and traveled to Italy to perform live in the palace of the Venice Art Biennale, the world’s oldest art exhibition, for the exhibition. of the movie.
Vaughn and Lundy will team up again this month for three Sundays at the Willcox for Old Hollywood-style performances. Additionally, Vaughn plays the piano in the lobby on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Current owners Geoff and Shannon Ellis have given Vaughn a place to play while he creates his various projects.
“We’ve become a family and that makes the music there all the more rewarding,” he said of his relationship with the Ellis.
Vaughn will be filming the process of creating and mixing his record.
“The record will be the one of my time with the late Gerri Sutyak, a Juilliard graduate and world-class cellist. I want to do this as a legacy of our time together, ”he said. “We made great music. “
Vaughn says Sutyak deserves the best and asks his master engineer friend Phil Brown, who is well known for recording David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cat Stevens, to lend his ear and expertise.
Vaughn recorded Sutyak’s cellos in Sedona, Arizona, at John Denver’s family home. He said there is a healing quality to the songs on the recording.
Vaughn said something amazing happened with his music when he was recording with Geordie Hormel (aka The Spam King).
“We played some of my recordings with Hormel’s secretary’s mother, who was in a coma at the time, and she woke up! Vaughn said. “This energy set the stage for the record.”
The spirit of Mary Pickford seems to be the common thread through Vaughn’s many adventures. What’s next for him?
“I would love to go back to filming in the Beverly Hills hotel ballroom where it all began,” he said. “It all comes back to her – to Mary. I don’t know why she chose me, but her spirit and influence has been very real throughout this trip.
You can hear Vaughn’s award-winning music on the movie “Second Acts” on Amazon. It won the Best Music Film Award at the Hollywood Women’s Film Festival and stars Michael Learned, better known as “America’s Mother” for her role in “The Waltons”.
Vaughn has come a long way since that 2 year old who crawled on a piano bench and never wanted to leave. Manifestations and magic follow the notes he plays and open the doors to his next chapter.