Retro-rocker Ben Vaughn attracted attention for his faithful re-creations of pre-Beatles rock & roll, pop, and roots music, all of which were filtered through his quirky sense of humor. Vaughn grew up in Philadelphia and played drums in the local punk band the Sickidz in 1980. Two years later, roots rockers the Morells recorded his composition "The Man Who Has Everything" on their acclaimed Shake and Push album. Vaughn began playing around Philadelphia with a band dubbed the Ben Vaughn Combo, gradually branching out into other parts of the Northeast. His first album, The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn, was released in 1986 on the U.K. imprint Making Waves and shortly thereafter was licensed for American release by Restless. It received enthusiastic reviews, and Marshall Crenshaw covered its "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" on his Downtown album. The follow-up, Beautiful Thing, appeared in 1987, again to positive response, and Vaughn signed a permanent deal with Restless; after its release, the Combo elected to disband, and Vaughn became a true solo artist. Blows Your Mind was released in 1988, and its 1990 follow-up, Dressed in Black, featured guest appearances by Crenshaw, John Hiatt, the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, Alex Chilton, and country duo Foster & Lloyd.
In the meantime, Vaughn's interest in musical history led to some side gigs as a compiler and producer. He contributed to retrospective releases on Johnny Otis and Joe South and produced albums by cult legends Charlie Feathers and Arthur Alexander, among others. He also scored two documentary films, Favorite Mopar (about muscle cars) and Wild Girls Go Go Rama, and spent some time in Nashville writing songs with Rodney Crowell and Bill Lloyd. In the meantime, Restless issued the compilation Mood Swings in 1992. Vaughn's next recording was a covers album, Mono USA, which appeared on Bar/None in 1994. He followed it in 1995 with Instrumental Stylings, an eclectic album that incorporated bits of his film scores, and a collaborative effort with Kim Fowley dubbed Kings of Saturday Night. Thanks in part to Instrumental Stylings, he was tapped to compose the surf-style theme song for the TV sitcom Third Rock from the Sun and wound up winning a composer's award from BMI for it. Most of the music from Instrumental Stylings was ultimately featured on the show at one time or another. Vaughn went on to serve as music director for That '70s Show as well and returned with a new album in 1997; Rambler 65 was recorded on an eight-track studio set up in Vaughn's vintage car of the same name. He returned in 2006 with Designs in Music, a collection of film themes for movies that exist only in Vaughn's imagination. The archival collection The Prehistoric Ben Vaughn followed in 2007, and in 2014, he returned to action with Texas Road Trip, a collection of original tunes recorded with a band of Lone Star legends, including Augie Meyers of the Sir Douglas Quintet. ~ Steve Huey