On Stage: Ben Vaughn closes Tin Angel, Saturday

The famed Philly venue’s first performer will be its last

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Ben Vaughn (center) brings his Quintet to the final two shows at Philly’s Tin Angel., Saturday. Mike McGann photo.

Alpha (α) and omega (Ω) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

They also could be used to describe the final night at The Tin Angel (20 South Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-928-0770, http://www.tinangel.com).

When Ben Vaughn performs a pair of shows at The Tin Angel on February 4 it will be the last hurrah for the venerable music club in downtown Philadelphia. The Tin Angel will close the room at its current location on Olde City on February 4. Owner Donal McCoy and booker Larry Goldfarb have plans to continue operating the Tin Angel at a larger venue later in 2017.

For the last few weeks, acts have returned to play the Tin Angel one last time and there has been a string of sold-out shows. No act could be more fitting than Vaughn for the final night. The veteran musician from the Philly area was the headline act for the Tin Angel’s opening night and he will be the headline for the venue’s final night.

“It was November 1992 and I was the first act to play there,” said Vaughn, during a phone interview last week from his home in Santa Monica, California. “A singer named Les Lokey opened the show. That night of the first show, it still smelled like fresh paint.

“There was definitely a need for a folk club in the city then. There was no good acoustic club in Philly at the time. I really felt like they had a winner.”

Goldfarb said, “I’m really glad we have Ben for the final shows. We’ve had a lot of Hall of Famers play here – Al Kooper, Donovan, Laura Nyro, Ian Maclagan from the Small Faces. For a lot of musicians, the Tin Angel was a stepping stone to bigger things. The club lasted 24 years and three months – 24 years for a little place with two flights of stairs.

“The building had been up for sale for a while. This could have happened three weeks ago or seven months ago. We’re having a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of sell-outs for the last few weeks.

“The owner is committed to finding a bigger space – a space to hold more people but still keep the intimacy. A big draw of the club was the intimacy. There were a lot of great acts that people were able to see in a small, comfortable space big acts like Damien Rice, Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco and Neko Case.”

One of those big acts has been Ben Vaughn.

“I played the Tin Angel seven or eight times over the years,” said Vaughn. “I wasn’t performing for a long time. And then, I moved to L.A. I’ve been in L.A. for 22 years. I drove out there from Philly in a ’64 Rambler. I wanted to do music for films and TV and I couldn’t do it in Philadelphia. You have to do it Hollywood.

“The real reason was because I wanted to write music every day. I’m a writer. With rock, one album a year doesn’t require much writing. I was ready to see if I had what it took.”

Vaughn grew up across the Delaware River in Mount Ephraim, New Jersey and graduated from Audubon High School.

“I played in a bunch of local bands,” said Vaughn. “I started as a drummer but I wanted to write songs. So, I had a friend teach me guitar. Bands that were big then were bands with really great players – bands like Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I knew I was never going to play at that level so I waited until punk came along.”

In 1983, he formed the Ben Vaughn Combo.  The band was together five years, releasing two albums and touring the U.S. several times. Vaughn embarked on a solo career in 1988. He recorded several critically-acclaimed albums and toured extensively in Europe and the U.S.

During that period, Vaughn produced three records for the Elektra Records American Explorer series. He also scored two films (“Favorite Mopar” and “Wild Girl’s Go-Go Rama”), as well as appearing as a frequent guest commentator on nationally syndicated radio shows “Fresh Air” and “World Cafe.”

In 1995, Vaughn moved to L.A. and released “Instrumental Stylings,” an album of instrumentals in a variety of styles.  A guest appearance on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” led directly to being hired as the composer for the hit TV sitcom “3rd Rock From The Sun” and later “That 70s Show.”

For the  next 10 years, Vaughn composed award-winning music for a dozen other TV shows and pilots – including “Men Behaving Badly,” “Normal, Ohio” and “Grounded For Life.” He also provided scores for several films (“Psycho Beach Party,” “The Independent,” “Scorpion Spring”) and continued producing records (Ween, Los Straitjackets, Mark Olson of the Jayhawks, Nancy Sinatra, and the “Swingers” soundtrack CD).

Vaughn also has his own syndicated radio show – “The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn.” It can be heard weekly on WXPN (Saturdays at 5 p.m.).

“I’ve been doing the radio show since 2009 – every week,” said Vaughn. “It’s syndicated on 16 stations and we’re picking up more as we go.”

Vaughn’s inspiration for the radio show came from Philly disc jockey legend Jerry Blavat – “The Geator with the heater.”

“The Geator is my hero,” said Vaughn. “He sells his own time and has built a great relationship with the Philly audience. I’m really lucky to have grown up in the Philly area.”

Vaughn recently released an album with his quintet called “Pièce de Résistance” on his own Many Moods label.

“We cut the album in August and it came out in December,” said Vaughn. “I recorded it in New Jersey with my Philly band. We recorded it pretty much completely live. I taught the songs to the band in the studio. It was really easy. A lot of the songs were done in one take.

“The songs were written over the last three years. I wasn’t writing songs for a long time because I was writing for TV shows. One day, a song came into my head while I was driving. Then, another one came – and another. All of a sudden, these songs came pouring out of me.”

If you’re fortunate enough to have a ticket for one of Saturday’s sold-out shows, you’ll be able to hear some of Vaughn’s new songs performed live. Special guest Dan Montgomery will be the opening act.

Video link for Ben Vaughn — https://youtu.be/XRbaGkz1OCM.

The Dukes of Destiny

The Dukes of Destiny, another long-time Philly band, will be performing on February 4 at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org)

The Dukes of Destiny, who have been treating fans to live performances of top-flight blues and soul music for almost three decades, are Arlyn Wolters (vocals), AC Steel (guitar, vocals), Bob Holden (drums, vocals), Chicago Carl Snyder (keyboards, vocals), Rich Curtis (bass, vocals) and John Colgan-Davis (harmonica, vocals).

In addition to performing at most of the clubs in the Tri-State area, the Philly-based band has performed at the Pocono Blues Festival, the Waterfront Jam at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, the State Street Blues Stroll in Media, the Bucks County R’n’B Picnic, the New Jersey Folk Festival and the Longwood Gardens Summer Concert Series.

“We had a great year last year,” said John Colgan-Davis, during a phone interview from his Philadelphia home last week. “We played places we had never played before – like the Philadelphia Folk Festival. And, we had a couple great gigs in Burlington County.

“We also played places we really love like the Kennett Flash and the West Grove Friends Meeting. We played the Phoenixville Blues Festival and the Paoli Blues Festival. We really love playing the Kennett Flash. And, we love our Chester County crowd. They’ve been coming to see us play for 14-15 years.”

Audiences that like to get out of their seats and dance are a big part of the Dukes of Destiny live experience.

“We get all kinds of dancers at our shows,” said Colgan-Davis. ““We’ve played a lot more festivals this year. We’re back on the festival circuit. I love playing festivals for a couple reasons. You get a whole bunch of people playing together. That takes me back to the 60s and the be-ins back then.

“Sun Ra had said the message that music is the healing force of the universe and you feel that at festivals. And, kids get to hear real music played by real people. With a band like us that plays off the crowd, a festival shows is a real exciting thing.”

Colgan-Davis’s introduction to the blues came when he was in high school and saw the Stones performing with Howling Wolf on the “Shindig” TV show. Howlin’ Wolf, whose real name was Chester Burnett, was an American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player who was one of the premier Chicago bluesmen.

“When I saw Howlin’ Wolf on that TV show, I jumped up and said — this is what I want to do. I started playing blues when I was 16. My dad gave me a grab bag for my birthday and a harmonica was in it.

“I started listening to blues records a lot — players like Muddy Waters and James Cotton. I was really into Chicago blues of the 1950s and 1960s when I started. Then, I got into guys like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. One of the first bands I played in was a Philly blues band called Sweet Stavin’ Chain.”

A while later, the Dukes of Destiny became the main musical vehicle for Colgan-Davis. At first they played house parties in Germantown, generating word of mouth interest. A gig at the now-defunct Taker’s Cafe in Germantown launched their public career

“The Dukes got together in the mid-1980s,” said Colgan-Davis. “Steve Brown started the band and it began with that gig at Taker’s Café. Steve died of pancreatic cancer in 2000 and I’ve been the leader ever since. Steve has always been in my mind. We did a tribute concert to him a few years ago and we still do some of his favorites in our set.

“We have a whole range of music in what we can play — everything from Chicago blues to old-school soul. What’s great about the Dukes is that we’re a band. We use each other’s strengths. Arlyn and I do the bulk of the singing but everybody in the band sings.”

Video link for the Dukes of Destiny — https://youtu.be/j5fM0sugB5w.

The show at the Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 and $22. Another show at Kennett Flash this weekend will be Apache Trails and Couple Days on February 3.

Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth, which will be performing on February 3 at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com), hails from a part of northwestern New Jersey that is rural, rustic and unlike what most people think of when they think if New Jersey. Railroad Earth is a roots and Americana-based newgrass jam band from Stillwater, New Jersey. The band’s music combines elements of bluegrass, rock and roll, jazz, Celtic and more.

The band features: Todd Sheaffer – Lead vocals, Acoustic guitars; Tim Carbone – Violins, Electric Guitar, Vocals; John Skehan – Mandolin, Bouzouki, Piano, Vocals; Andy Goessling – Acoustic guitars, Banjo, Dobro, Mandolin, Lap Steel, Flute, Pennywhistle, Saxophones and Vocals; Carey Harmon – Drums, Hand Percussion, Vocals; and Andrew Altman – Upright and Electric bass. 

Railroad Earth recently revisited its acclaimed 2014 album, “Last of the Outlaws,” pulling together a filmed live performance augmented by a string quartet on some of their favorite cuts from the record. “The Castle Inn Sessions” was filmed in an idyllic turn of the century hotel in Delaware Water Gap, PA, and is now a brand new 4-song EP.

“We are overdue for a new album,” said Harmon, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in the Hoboken area. “Part of the process has been rethinking the album – and the process. Going into the studio and then going through the album cycle had very little to do with what we do. We tour every year without that cycle.

“We have a handful of songs that we recorded at the end of 2016. We’re going to put them out one at a time. We’re not concerned about a hard copy. After we put a bunch out, then we might put them on an EP and then start again.

“Getting into the studio every two or three years is not enough. I welcome the opportunity to keep it flowing. We’ve never relied on records. It’s all about the live show. Over 16 years, we made it very clear that we’re going to be in your town. We play more than 100 shows every year.

“The effect on our writing of releasing one song at a time remains to be seen. Instead of coming from an acoustic song and building on it, we just loosen up in our rehearsal space and let it come out. The new stuff coming out will reflect more of that.

“We’ve been doing this for 16 years. It’s amazing. It just keeps going around. It never feels nostalgic – never feels old. I still think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do.”

Video link for Railroad Earth – https://youtu.be/cKxYLjj6tdg?list=UU7wJeb4Pd_RdhzMzGT-m0Vg.

The show at Union Transfer, which has David Wax Museum as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25

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