In The Shadow Of The City
One of Chicago's outstanding younger generation bluesmen, Maurice is a triple threat on guitar, sax and vocals. "A sparkling set...soulful vocals and distinctive songwriting"--CHICAGO TRIBUNE
All songs by Maurice John Vaughn, Reese Mo Von Music, BMI, except as noted
Maurice John Vaughn, Vocals, Guitar and Saxophone
Allen Batts, Piano and Organ
Kenny Barker, Piano 2
Jimmy Walker, Piano 3
Nathaniel "B.J." Emory, Trombone and Background Vocals
Freddie Dixon, Bass
Michael McGee, Drums 4
Bill Leathers, Drums 5
Robert Covington, Drums 6
Produced by Maurice John Vaughn
Recorded and mixed by Julian Herzfeld at Chicago Trax, Chicago, IL
Bruce Iglauer, Executive Producer
Mastered by Dr. Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital, Southborough, MA
Photos by Peter Amft, assisted by Jason More and Chris Kelsch
Inside black & white photo by Steve Koress
Cover design by Matt Minde
Recitation and French lyrics on Suicide Is Not TheWay by Jacques LaCava
AS YOU LISTEN to the music on this disc, you can feel the cadences of the city -- harsh and unrelenting, yet buoyed by an undercurrent of dreams and optimism --that permeate Maurice John Vaughn's musical vision. Yet Maurice himself is a quiet family man who now lives in Michigan City, Indiana; he spends most of his time tending to his home and children when he's not performing. It might seem strange that a person of his reserve and dignity could come up with music of such power, but in fact it's exactly that kind of juxtaposition -- traditionalism and modernity, passion and introspection, hard-edged realism and sardonic humor -- that's made both the music and the man among the most popular on the Chicago blues scene.
Even as a boy going to school at Juliet Low on Chicago's South Side, Maurice knew he wanted to play an instrument. With clubs on almost every corner and everything from down home blues to funky R&B streaming out of radios and jukeboxes all over the city, Chicago was a smorgasbord of sound. Young Maurice wanted to sample it all.
He started playing drums in the school band when he was about eleven; a few years later in high school he picked up the baritone horn. Later he added the clarinet to his growing collection and finally, in 1968, he started in on the sax. This was the golden era of sweet soul music, horn-drenched, funky and emotionally exhilarating, and the budding young reedman from the South Side began to find himself in demand. In bands like The Gents of Soul and later the disco ensemble Modified Production, Maurice played everywhere: discos, country clubs, even steakhouses.
In the early '70s, Maurice found the demand for horn players was dwindling, so he reached into his bag of tricks one more time and began to concentrate on guitar -- blues guitar. He sat in with such local bluesmen as Smilin' Bobby and Johnny Dollar; eventually he joined a band fronted by keyboardist Professor Eddie Lusk. When Phil Guy-brother of the legendary guitarist Buddy Guy and a first-rate fretman in his own right-sat in one day, he was so impressed with Maurice and his compatriots that he hired them away from Lusk on the spot to play with him.
Traveling in that kind of company, Maurice soon earned a reputation as one of the city's leading young blues practitioners. His versatility made him comfortable in a variety of contexts, from the driving boogie of saxophonist A.C. Reed (he appeared on Reed's Alligator LP, I'm In The Wrong Business!)to the flamboyant elegance of vocalist Zora Young (in 1986 he accompanied her on her Stumbling Blocks And Stepping Stones album on the Belgian Parsifal label). He also produced his own LP on his own Reecy label. That record, the waggishly titled Generic Blues Album, was added to the Alligator catalog in 1988, and it catapulted Maurice into the Chicago blues limelight. He's remained there ever since.
There's nothing generic about Maurice John Vaughn's music, as this disc will attest. True to its title, most of it seethes with a driving urban pulse. From the chug-chug-chugging boogie of Can't Nobody (embellished by Allen Batts' triplet-laden keyboard runs that recall Howlin' Wolf's Killing Floor rhythm) through Maurice's sexy murmuring on Are You Satisfied? and Blood Red Sky, Maurice makes good on his proclamation that this disc reflects "what's inside of me."
Alongside that contemporary flashiness, Maurice also revels in the richness of blues tradition. He swings down the rafters here with octogenarian pianist Jimmy Walker on Walker's Small Town Baby, and he digs even deeper into his blues roots on an acoustic guitar workout of Treat Me So Bad.
Special mention should be made of the tough-minded message song, Suicide Is Not The Way. Maurice wrote it some years ago, but it has a special poignancy today because it recalls the tragic death of Professor Eddie Lusk, an event that shattered the Chicago blues world and stole from Maurice a treasured friend.
But it would be wrong to end on that note; Maurice's music is about renewal, survival and celebration. Night descends, there's an ache somewhere in your heart, but the street's alive and pulsing; the clubs are jumping, the ladies are all decked out in their finery, your ride's full of gas and running smooth. Hit the street and soothe away those bad feelings with a taste, a good-time groove, and maybe a soft, tender caress from a new friend...in the shadow of the city.
- DAVID WHITEIS
David Whiteis is a frequent contributor to The Chicago Reader, Living Blues, The Chicago Tribune, Juke Blues and The Chicago Sun-Times.