Bluesdoodles had the great pleasure to meet Danny Vaughn in the heart of London’s West End in the week before the nationwide Lockdown began. The conversation began with Danny commenting on the retro-looking recording software on the phone being used for the interview, which looked like a cassette tape. With our bemoaning how the tape would often get snagged and require a pencil to wind the tape back in, Danny’s response was that it wasn’t any fun without that happening!
BD confessed ignorance and lack of first-hand knowledge about Danny’s background, noting, following research that he was an undiscovered secret as far as the general public were concerned, to which “I’m kind of liking that!” was the charming response. We noted that he must have built up a big fan-base over the years playing the melodic rock for which he is known, so why the release of “Myths, Legends and Lies” in the previous year (which, it should be said is a tremendous album – see the CD reviews section), firmly in the Americana category?
DV: If you consider that those songs were written over a period of decades, they’ve always been in there, in the box. I just sit down and write; you get inspired by various things, different tunings. One year I bought a mandolin and started tinkering; something comes from that – I’m not going to play a mandolin on an Iron Maiden song (BD: “not unless you’re Hayseed Dixie” – DV: I’m not as clever as those guys!” Growing up I was exposed to all kinds of music and I grew up more on the folk side of things; Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel and of course the Beatles. I think I discovered the blues at about 14, it was a galvanising moment. It was at my second concert ever watching the Steve Miller Band at the Beacon theatre; a lot of my sense of harmony comes from listening to Steve Miller. I’d just starting playing the guitar when I saw him and was more into acoustic than electric. Halfway through the concert he sat on a stool and played a twelve-string guitar, playing a Robert Johnson song – I was mesmerised. I heard the blues and a twelve-string together and that was it! It was a sound I fell in love with and have been following ever since.
BD: The first thing that you became known for was playing with heavy rock outfit Waysted. Was it sheer chance how that came about?
DV: Absolutely, it was pre-internet. In the early 1980s, the cover band circuit in New York was huge, you could make so much money, making five grand a night. My band “Allied Forces” for instance had to cover so many songs, by Iron Maiden, Schenker, Rush and so on. Our guitarist had to be amazing! It taught us how to learn fast as the good bands got singled out. So, I was doing that, earning a living and having a good time when one night a guy comes up to me, hands me a crumpled piece of paper with a phone number and says, “Paul Chapman wants to speak to you”. I didn’t really believe him so I threw the paper away; a month later the same guy comes up and says “did you call him?” Apparently, a keyboard player on the circuit had recommended me as a singer to Paul Chapman while he was in Florida working on his solo project, “DOA”. So, I ended up flying down to Florida and worked with Paul on his demo; I was a big UFO fan, so excited to be there. Paul’s idea was to fly back to London and get us a deal with Chrysalis, using his contacts. However, he bumped into Pete Way in London, they got drunk together and he was persuaded to join Waysted, so us working together fell through. BD: That must have been a big disappointment? DV: It was, I ended up working for a phone company! About a year later though Paul got back in touch and said they were having a few problems with their singer, Ian Muir, and would I be interested if things didn’t work out. Luckily, working for AT&T I was able to call every day on the company dime! Eventually, it was a case of the singer refusing to go to Tel Aviv and play a festival in a soccer stadium in front of 15-20 thousand people, and did I want to go and play some Waysted and UFO songs? Yes!
BD You weren’t daunted by having to learn a whole set in a short time? DV: I was, but as a fan of their music I knew a lot of the songs already. That was a trial by fire; they said, if you do well, you’re in. It was an eclectic festival with people like Billy Cobham and Al di Meola, as well as Marillion. We were the only hard rock band and the place just exploded when we went on. We had a great show and an even more memorable after-party. The next day Jimmy the keyboard player walks by, throws me copies of the two most popular papers in Tel Aviv and says “I guess you’re in “. I was on the cover of both! All these great bands and I’m on there in my ridiculous red and white spandex jumpsuit! Freddie Mercury would have blushed man! That was the start.
BD: It’s one thing to have the vocal talents but you had also to be a frontman; how did you learn to do that?
DV: The club circuit experience helped and I had some excellent tutors – the next thing Waysted did was to open up for Iron Maiden. Not only did I have Bruce Dickinson to watch and talk to but Steve Harris was really helpful. He and Pete were great friends and we’d all go round his house and hang out. I talked to Steve about my fears of how to handle these large audiences and, being a huge fan of Jethro Tull, he would tell me to watch what Ian Anderson does on stage, which is what he’d told Bruce to do as well. They were really supportive; there was one night in Detroit when I was really rattled, someone had thrown the neck of a bottle, which hit me right in the face, luckily the drinking end. Chapman goes into a solo and I just collapsed backstage, terrified. Steve Harris comes up to me and says (puts on cod cockney accent) “you don’t take that shit from them, you get back out there and tell them what for, tell them to ‘eff off”. I nicknamed him “Burgess” after Burgess Meredith the actor who played the coach in Rocky! It was just what I needed. You learn a lot from working with professionals as well as with very giving guys. A lot of bands don’t do that, they don’t want their support band to sound good. Maiden weren’t like that; that knew that if we got the fans riled up they would just be able to stomp all over it.
BD: Waysted ended after a couple of years; did you see yourself as a battle-hardened pro by that stage?
DV: To be honest I thought my shit didn’t stink! I sat back and waited for the phone to ring; it did a couple of times but nothing worked out so I thought, here I am supposedly famous and nothing’s happening, I’ve got to do something by myself, so I started putting together Tyketto.
BD: Where did the name come from?
DV: It came about after a couple of months of going through every ridiculous name when our guitarist was working in a rough part of Brooklyn and saw the name tagged on a wall. It was maybe a gang thing but we thought it sounded cool. The funny thing was about six months later a record exec suggested we get a photo underneath it, which we did, only to find it said Tykefeto! BD: Did that go well from the start? Pretty much; we formed a sort of rock’n’roll Bootcamp, living together and rehearsing 3-4 hours each day in a great place, really honing the material. All of the guys had good writing instincts. Using my contacts, we were able to get in touch with the guys who ran L’ Amour, which was this famous venue in Brooklyn that all the bands, like Kiss and Maiden, would play after they played Madison Square, so we got connected management straightaway. They got us good gigs opening for people like Skid Row, so we got known quickly, going from conception to record deal in around a year.
BD: Had you written songs before then?
DV: Yes, with Waysted, unfortunately uncredited! BD: That must have been galling? DV: That was my Spinal tap moment when the album arrived and I didn’t see my name on it! I got shafted by management as I didn’t know better, which taught me a lesson. I had been experimenting a bit with songwriting before and in fact, the very first song I wrote when I was 18, “The Missouri Kid” appears on “Myths’ “. Of course, it developed over the years.
BD: Do you write alone or do you collaborate?
DV: Well, there’s the “Snake Oil & Harmony” album, which is a big collaboration with Dan Reed, which was a nice progression from “Myths’”. It was a coincidence how it came out as we didn’t intend it to go that way. We met at Download in 2014, when Tyketto and the Dan Reed Network were on the same stage. I’d wanted to meet him as he has a bit of an aura about him – we’d crossed paths many times without actually meeting. Within ten minutes of the meeting, I’d suggested we work together. I’d often suggest doing this with other compatriots, who’d be enthusiastic but it would result in nothing happening. Dan just said, “I’m free April!”
BD: I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more collaborations between musicians?
DV: Well, it’s a lot harder than it sounds! There are scheduling practicalities as well as getting everyone’s egos in check. You can have two good singers but who don’t necessarily sing well together. Dan and I have a lot of experience doing what I call support singing. Dan suggested that rather than just play on each other’s songs, we work on the songs together, throwing in harmonies wherever it felt right. To me there is no more powerful sound than two voices blending together. I love choirs, African chants, Appalachian harmonies, all sorts.
BD: Your involvement with the Ultimate Eagles must involve a lot of harmony work? Was that done for fun?
DV: No, that for the money! When you get down to dissecting what the Eagles did on guitars and for harmonies, it’s complicated! “Hotel California” has about 18 guitar tracks on it; you can’t play it one guitar! In this musical climate, you have to be a juggler; there are only a handful of artists that do one thing all year round and make a living at it. I’m always on the hunt, maybe someone wants a producer, or needs you to play on a track. Sometimes it’s just for money but sometimes a really nice project comes your way and it’s exciting, which is what “Snake Oil” became.
BD: Do you think you and Dan will work more together?
DV: I hope so; we did 2 tours without any of our own songs and people kept on at us about writing, so we wrote one song, “Where the Water Goes” and started playing it live to let the audience decide if it was any good. It got a great reaction and that solidified our decision to make an album.
BD: You’ve been making music for a long time but you still come over as enthusiastic; others might be jaded by now.
DV: 35 years! I did quit once – I’m never jaded by music but the business is awful. It’s amazing that even now when the money has dried up that there are still these cut’n’run sharks in the water, trying to make a killing and screw everyone over.
BD: How has the solo album been received?
DV: It’s been a revelation; I had no expectations for it; it just needed to be done; I had such a love for these songs that had no home. It’s crowdfunded and I thought what’s going to happen if I finally get this done and the fans don’t like it and go, that’s not rock’n’roll! I must admit that I sold my audience short – I just didn’t think they’d get it but the audience is much smarter than we think; they were so willing to fight my corner throughout the whole pledge thing. It’s hard to describe the emotion of the period. We were just about to start recording and my mother passed away. It was fight, fight, fight with the pledge thing and, it sounds corny, but the fans kept pulling me back. Then it all came together with the right musicians: I ended up in the exactly right studio in Wales, with the exactly right producer, Tim Hamill.
BD: You recorded in Wales and previously made a live album in Newcastle; you seem to like the UK?
DV: My strongest fanbase is here; I think UK fans appreciate hard work. Tyketto came here for the first time in 1991, opening up for White Lion, without any record company support; they said don’t bother, nobody’s buying records over there. We went anyway. First night nerves backstage in St David’s Hall, Cardiff, and we thought we were going to be massacred. The audience knew every word! They were there for the support band and that was the same everywhere; our reputation got there before we did. We’ve had this wonderful relationship ever since.
BD: With the new album there’s an opportunity for a whole new audience, especially with the number of Americana festivals springing up, like Black Deer?
DV: I’m really trying to become part of that scene; we’ve approached several, even some folk festivals. BD: it’s not like you’re a complete unknown! DV: I’m meeting a lot of people today who don’t know my career and that’s fine, I love it! I’m enjoying talking to people as a new guy.
At this point, having exceeded our interview time, BD wound things up, expressing a wish to catch Danny play his solo album live later in the year (little did we know). It’s worth mentioning that the small party that remained in the West End boutique hotel, after a long day of interviews, which included emerging country musicians Kyle Daniels and Austin Jenckes (see his interview with BD from last year elsewhere on the site) retired to an upstairs bar where the conversation flowed for a couple more hours. Danny remained as open and engaging as he had been during the interview and if Bluesdoodles had an award for all round nice guy it would probably have his name on it.