It would be easier to say who Kenny Vaughan has not played with rather than who he has played with. He has appeared on numerous recordings and on stage with a hugh range of artists. He played with Sweethearts Of The Rodeo in the 80’s. He also played at the beginning of the resurgence of Lower Broadway with Greg Garing. Later he met and played with Lucinda Williams. In one memorable week in Nashville we saw Kenny playing four nights in a row with four different bands playing four differnt musical styles. That’s how versitile and inventive player he is. In 2007 he was voted The Americana Music Associations Instrumentalist of the Year. He is currently a member of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives. Two words that readily apply to Vaughan’s guitar work.
When we spoke in Dublin you mentioned playing punk in New York. Obviously you grew up listening to a lot of music can you let us know what music forms you initially were inspired by other than country?
My father’s Jimmy Smith records featuring Kenny Burrell were an early influence. He listened to a lot of cool jazz and R&B. The British Invasion was the tip off for me and the guitar. Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks,Yardbirds and Them. The garage rock scene from ‘65-’66 provided the bulk of material for my first band. We also dug surf - Dick Dale, Link Wray.
About the same time I listened to a lot of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash with respective guitarists Don Rich Roy Nichols, Luther Perkins. To me, they were as rock ‘n’ roll as anyone. Jerry Lee Lewis was (and is) my favorite country singer.
In ‘68-’69 I saw Hendrix 3 times, saw The Cream twice, saw Howlin Wolf with Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Winter, Captain Beefheart, Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, The Grateful Dead, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and John Mayall featuring Mick Taylor. I listened to the first Butterfield record with Mike Bloomfield on the Telecaster, also Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo. All before I was 17!
In the 70’s I listened to the Stooges and the Velvets, I saw the Dolls, Roxy and Mott, loved everything that John McLauglin did with Miles and I really liked The Feelgoods with Wilco Johnson. I saw Television, The Cramps and the Ramones early on, as well as early Weather Report, Miles, Abercrombie, Tony Williams with Larry Young, Billy Cobham featuring my friend Tommy Bolin, and took lessons from a young Bill Fissell. Seeing Waylon and Haggard in the 70’s was a revelation and I was way into 50’s and 60’s George Jones . I became friends with a record collector that tutored me in southern rockabilly. By ‘76 I was working with country players twice my age in West Denver playing 50’s & ‘60s country 7 nights a week . I did have a band that played to the punk audience ‘77-’80 in Denver, Chicago, and NYC. I continued to play the country Honky Tonk scene until moving to Nashville in the mid ‘80s.
How do you filter the various musical influences into your own style? How much, for example, of Jeff Beck is there mixed with Don Rich? In other words is everything you have heard a part of an unconscious data bank that you draw from on occasion or are you more specific when drawing on a particular style?
I would say that I am influenced not to play a certain way by things that I dislike. I like early Eddie Van Halen, but have no interest in playing like that. I love Jimi Hendrix, but can’t play like that. I love Jeff Beck, though he what influence I had would have been from his first year with the Yardbirds. I’ve been to several of his shows recently and am mostly influenced by his overall attitude. I’d love to be able to play like Django, but I’ll leave that alone. James Burton, Roy Nichols, and Ralph Mooney are about the only guys I’ve actually tried to cop note for note, that was because I loved those Haggard records so much. Luther Perkins as well. People try to play like him but always get it wrong. The early Stones, Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo , Johnny Guitar Watson, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, Guitar Slim, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Vaughan and Hollywood Fats are all, and continue to be, influences. BB, Freddy and Albert King should be counted as well. Then there’s Link Wray, Hank Marvin and Duane Eddy! Sterling Morrison! John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Hank Garland and Grady Martin. Jimmy Martin. Who played the intro on Stay Out All Night by Billy Boy Arnold? Who played guitar on 6 Days On The Road by Dave Dudley? I’ve tried to cop both of those.
Although you are now with Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives on a long term basis you continue to work with other artists. Is it difficult to find the time to take on these projects?
I don’t have to much trouble juggling my time. Work is welcome!
Any news of a solo album?
I have a record coming out September 13th on Sugar Hill. I enjoy doing my own thing as well as being a Superlative. Marty is a huge influence. I’ve learned more in the last 10 years than you could imagine.The Superlatives are the greatest. Our best work lies ahead. My solo album consists of three instrumentals and seven vocal numbers, two of which written with Marty. I wrote the others. The Superlatives backed me and we tracked most of them live with no headphones. The vocals were then overdubbed. Five of the tunes are things I do on stage with Marty. I wanted to get a live feel on the tracks. There are a few overdubs. Brandon Bell recorded, mixed and co-produced at Minutiae in Nashville.
Sartorial style is a part of your performance mode. At what point did you consider how you looked alongside your playing?
I saw the Stones in ‘65. Watched James Brown on TV. Saw Buck Owens in ‘68. Watched Roy Rogers as a kid. What was the question?
All too often country music guitar players tend to be overlook against other genres which is a shame. Who in the genre continues to inspire you?
Nashville is full of killer players. How about Redd Volkaert, Brent Mason, Vince Gill or Guthrie Trapp? To many to mention. My hero is the late, great bluesman Hollywood Fats.
What do you think of the state of both mainstream country as against Americana in these times?
Mainstream country and/or Americana doesn’t have much to hold my interest. The best that Americana offers falls into the “ I like it ‘cause I don’t hate it “ category.
Are there any areas of music that you haven't explored that you would like to?
I’ve done a prodigious amount of exploring. I will continue, I’m sure.
You have, through the years, played with a lot of different artists, which of those performances are you proudest of?
Certainly Marty Stuart!
How do you prepare for a project, either live or in the studio?
I try to keep my fingers moving and my mind open.
Finally, you are a family man, so are there things outside of music you love to do?
I would like to be a better cook.
Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton