Singer-Songwriter Ben Vaughn Stops at the Rock Hall to Talk About His Experiences in Film and TV

Earlier today, singer-songwriter Ben Vaughn, who has spent the past 25 years as music director, producer, arranger and performer, spoke at the Rock Hall during a discussion with curator Karen Herman.

Held in conjunction with the museum’s Stay Tuned: Rock on TV exhibit, the event focused on Vaughn’s career in TV and film.

Vaughn grew up in the Philadelphia area on the New Jersey side of the river. He embarked on his career as a musician at age 6 when his uncle gave him a Duane Eddy record. In 1983, he formed the Ben Vaughn Combo, and he then embarked on a solo career in 1988.

“In 1995, I decided to take my talent to Hollywood and see if there was any chance that I could compose music for films,” he said, adding that the Pulp Fiction soundtrack inspired him to make the move. “I always noticed the music in films from when I was a kid. And I always liked how the theme songs of TV shows like Gilligan’s Island reflect the characters.”

Initially, he released an album of instrumentals and was being interviewed about that record when he mentioned that if anyone needed music for film or TV, they should call the station. The phone rang, and it was the producer for 3rd Rock From the Sun who asked him to audition.

“She said, ‘We want American rock ’n’ roll as played by aliens, and we think that’s what you’re already doing,'" he said as he played the theme song on electric guitar and spoke about he wrote the song by borrowing riffs from other popular tunes. “I did any background music for 3rd Rock. I also did the interstitials. I wrote music for the scenes of planets bouncing around and the clips were already shot, so I had to make the music match.”

He then worked as the composer for That '70s Show and hand-picked the Big Star song that became the theme tune.

“I called [Big Star frontman] Alex Chilton and told him to hurry up and call his publisher since we were shooting the sequence the next day,” says Vaughn, who plays every instrument on the rendition of the track that was used as the theme song.

For the next ten years, he would provide award-winning music for a dozen other TV shows and pilots ad provide scores for many films. He shared stories about many of those projects.

“I had a poverty mindset, so I accepted everything,” said Vaughn. “At one point, I was doing three shows and it was driving me crazy. I would read the scripts and try to go to the shoots.”

When asked about how he kept it all together, Vaughn said the stress was “pretty incredible.”

“We would get a hiatus in May when everyone would go have their individual nervous breakdowns,” he says. “It was very intense.”

Vaughn currently hosts a syndicated radio show and still tours on occasion. He performs tonight at 8 at the Beachland Tavern. Dan Montgomery and Jack Harris open the show. Tickets cost $12.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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