Vaughan Quartet

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There is a list of musical descriptions which consist of a label name followed by the word "sound" -- as in the CTI sound, the Chess sound, even the Dumpster Diver Cassette sound. To that list must be…
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There is a list of musical descriptions which consist of a label name followed by the word "sound" -- as in the CTI sound, the Chess sound, even the Dumpster Diver Cassette sound. To that list must be added, and placed near the top if chronologically sequenced, the Vaughan Quartet sound. The publishing empire James D. Vaughan had created was already tremendously influential prior to sponsoring its own singing groups, all of which were given variations on the same name. Actual, real-life Vaughan presence was limited to George Keiffer Vaughan, the son of the boss, who was part of the ensemble on every recording by at least one branch of the Vaughan Quartet tree. Traced back a few decades, the very first Vaughan Quartet had actually been 100 percent Vaughan, featuring the boss and three of his brothers. This lineup had aged out by the time records started getting cut, however. Some of the recordings are credited to the Vaughan Trio, others to the Vaughan Quartet, but no Vaughan Sextet, as there was good chance consumers of the Vaughan-riation on rural gospel music might wrongly interpret the presence of the word "sex." No matter how many Vaughans are singing, the resulting gospel style is remarkably different than the more widely known black Southern Baptist blend with its rhythm & blues influences or the folksy old-time music of the Carter Family or the Phipps Family. What the publishers seemed to be going for was more influenced by European classical chamber music, but as played by figures of wax. It has been described as a highly stylized approach to gospel, the creation of which cannot be credited, or blamed, on the company pulling the strings. This type of gospel singing did indeed exist on its own outside the realm of the company's headquarters, especially in farming communities with no radios and record players. It appears Vaughan's main accomplishment was smoothly processing a currently popular style by an ever-shifting stable of players with technical skills but no desire to inject their own personality -- Vaughanity rather than vanity, in other words. It certainly helped create a huge commercial market for rural gospel music styles and, in that sense, is the fountain from which so many streams continue to flow. Beginning in 1928 with recording sessions in Nashville for Victor, the musicians involved included Hillman Barnard, Otis McCoy, W.B. Walbert, A.M. Pace, Claude Sharpe, and Cully Wilson. Actual brothers L.E. and F.P. Heatwole were in the group for Memphis sessions the following year. The membership of the 1932 version of the band is unknown. In fact, it is unknown just how many country performers that came up in this period might have received some early life experience in a Vaughan Quartet. Consider this excerpt from the biography of country singer Eddie Dean, for example: "Dean began performing in local theaters and soon after joined a western group called the Vaughan Quartet. Members of the group were paid about six dollars a day playing in schools and churches while selling songbooks on the side to make ends meet." The group's instrumentation usually consisted of banjo, fiddle, and guitar. Some members were more deeply involved with gospel music, such as John Murchison Pickering, who taught shape-note singing all over the South. There was also a Vaughan Happy Two in 1928, believers in the adage "two's company, three's a crowd." A recording session in Dallas in 1929 produced Vaughan's Texas Quartet, proof that this state's chauvinism was more powerful than the Vaughan empire, or big enough to force a compromise. James D. Vaughan created his own label as well, calling it Vaughan in a tremendous change of pace. The catalog consisted of material by the Vaughan Quartet and the Vaughan Happy Two. There are critics who believe this company's musical vision was a great influence on popular bandleader Lawrence Welk's characteristic way of counting off a tune: "Vaughan, two, three, four."