Charlie Vaughn, an accomplished musician from Carrolton, GA, has been honored with the "Legend Award" by the Georgia Steel Guitar Association. Established in 2004 by the association's founding officers, this membership category is to honor Georgia's steel guitarists who, through their passion and commitment, have made significant contributions to the advancement of their instrument.
Vaughn had a large fan base and was the steel guitar
player at the Lowell Opry House until his retirement due to hearing loss
three years ago.
The 73 year old Vaughn was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 following a career in which he has worked with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Connie Smith, Tony Booth, Charlie Pride, Kenny Price, Faron Young and Billy Walker.
Vaughn caught the music bug in high school, playing piano in a rock band. Later, at West Georgia College, he and a few buddies formed a rock band called The Collegiates, with who he played in this first professional show opening for Jerry Lee Lewis in Birmingham, Alabama. Though he was enjoying moderate success with rock music, Vaughn's passion had always been country music, and when he discovered the steel guitar, there was no turning back.
"I'd always liked country music,: he told the Times-Georgian in a 2009 interview. "I listened to country music from the time I was old enough to turn on the radio, but there were no country bands around here. There were no high school guys playing country music for sure, so I just played in a rock band at first just to be able to play."
Vaughn bought his own steel guitar in 1962 and taught himself how to play. Mostly, he learned by listening to records and "figuring the licks out" along the way. Vaughn hooked up with the Smith brothers, "Tennessee" and "Smitty," who were playing at the local American Legion and needed a steel guitar player. He performed with the Smith brothers about six years, meeting other musicians along the way before becoming a steel guitarist for hire.
Vaughn eventually landed a regular job performing in Atlanta at the Play Room, a popular country music spot at that time, before joining a band formed by a man Sammy Tucker. Tucker later opened a club in Atlanta called The Nugget that would lead to Vaughn to realizing his dream of playing in the Mecca of country music - Nashville.
"The Nuggett just got bigger and bigger," he said. "There isn't any telling how many Nashville stars I met. Meeting them and playing with them at The Nugget, my reputation as a steel guitar player just got bigger and bigger."
Vaughn left the club scene in Atlanta and came back to Carrollton in the late 1970s when The Nuggett burned down along with his steel guitar. He basically gave up music and went to work as an electrician, but it wasn't long before he was performing again.
"Some of my favorite memories are from my days in Atlanta with Howard Garmon, Jimmy Garmon, Bill Benton, Jody Payne and Roni Goss. We had a great band, Thanks to Sam Tucjker for making that happen. I will never forget those days. I have met a lot of wonderful people and almost every big-name steel player, my favorite being John Hughey who was my good friend. I will have these memories to recall for the rest of my life.
Other local groups that Charlie played with included "Watusi Rodeo" and "The Sundowners."
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