Ron James Vaughn sits back in his chair and thinks about his answer. Wearing his Sodexo uniform, he ponders which of the stars he’s jammed with was his favorite. He smiles his warm smile and leans forward.
“Probably in Nashville, Tenn. with Ronnie Milsap, or with Bill Morrow, he was the king of bluegrass back then,” he said.
And although Vaughn said he has played with musicians including Jeannie C. Riley, Ray Stevens and Jonny Paycheck, and hung out musicians including Jonny Cash, he says his heart has always been for the music, not the fame.
At a first glance, the 63-year-old guitar player from Cincinnati, OH, looks like your typical country guy; a Waylon Jennings type. With a big gray mustache, glazed-over red bloodhound eyes, and a deep southern accent, he pretty much sums up “ole’ country boy.”
You can usually spot him in his red Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of The Houses jamming to his favorites like Waylon Jennings, ironically enough, or Leon Russell. Or you more likely may find him in Huden’s, “La Trattoria,” tossing pizza dough, making Italian food for the students.
But Vaughn is much more than a pizza maker and in just a few minutes chatting with him, you can learn of his exciting, surprising past.
“In the ‘60s we began our music career as we had our own TV show in gospel on channel 12WKRC,” said Vaughn of his family. “During that time, I remember meeting a young kid when we went to the TV station and he would always sit by himself, and he was real quiet and would hardly talk and his dad would tell him to sit there.
“It was the son of Nick Clooney, and his name was George Clooney. I guess he didn’t stay quiet too long,” Vaughn said with a laugh.
He met the members of Lynyrd Syknyrd in a nightclub in Nashville. He met Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and use to be neighbors with Roy Orbison, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Jonny Cash.
“Back in my hippie era … I had hair down to my waist and owned a Volkswagen Van, my pride, with a big peace sign on the front. I got use to being pulled over … One time my van broke down and to my surprise a limo stopped to give me a ride and driving the limo was Jonny Cash,” he said.
“He told me it really gets lonely being an entertainer … I always remember how nice and a humble man he was … I swear, listen to “Man in Black” by Jonny Cash and ya’ll know what his life is all about,” said Vaughn.
He once was talking to Jody Payne, Wille Nelson’s guitarist, in a hotel in 1978. Willie had recently just quit smoking, but Vaughn and Payne hadn’t.
“I know what Willie smokes, it’s the best,” whispered Vaughn, grinning from ear to ear, looking like he just took a hit of whatever it was Willie smoked.
He has had numerous side jobs throughout his life including baking birthday and wedding cakes, operating a pool service and working for FedEx.
But Vaughn’s life has not been all fun and games.
“Life became a little more fast paced and I began to stray away from Jonny’s warnings to me,” said Vaughn.
“Being on the road a lot, and always being away, I’ll tell ya, it cost me my first marriage, and I’m not proud of it,” he said.
And it wasn’t easy on his son either.
“Well to simply put, my parents’ divorce sucked and when it happened, he moved to Florida so I only got to see him in the summers,” said Ronnie Vaughn.
But Ronnie, “a chip off the ole’ block,” according to both him and his dad, has a lot to admire about his father.
“Becoming a working musician … it is hard to do in this day and age and I’ve become quite good at it and a lot of that I credit to my dad’s work ethic when it came to music,” said Ronnie who has played with artists including John Mayer and Maroon Five.
Students at Castleton admire his dad too.
They know of Ron as, “a really chill, really nice, open guy,” according to junior Matt Woodward. “I had no idea he’s met so many cool people, to hear that is amazing.”
And Ron is just as fond of the students as they are of him.
Sophomore Kailey Corbett has become close with Ron over the past two years.
“He takes a real interest in the students here, we talk about music and psych. He always says ‘that shit’s going to change the world!’”
But his interest in students is more than small talk.
“He came up to me the other day and told me about a job opportunity I should take. It was so chill of him. He’s the chillest dude in Huden,” said Corbett.
And lately he’s been jamming with students too. O Tuesday nights, Fireside Café hosts an Open Mic Night, and Vaughn has been playing tunes from various musicians including Charlie Daniels Band and ZZ Top. He has also taken freshman Lawrence Hathaway under his wing and they have been performing together each week.
But with such a neat past, many students wonder how Ron ended up in little Castleton, Vermont making pizza in Huden.
He met his second wife Vickie, in a club in St. Petersburg , Fla. in 1986 and was soon married in 1988.
“She’s the most beautiful lady,” said Vaughn.
The admiration is mutual.
“When we first met he was very calm, very soothing, he was just wonderful,” said Vickie.
Sadly, Vickie’s mother passed away shortly after they married, moving them back to Poultney where she grew up. “Nothing has changed, we are still just about the same as we were then,” said Vickie.
In the ‘80s, Ron did his last show with Ray Stevens and T.G Sheppard.
“I know I would be settling down on the wild side of the music world and Jonny’s words were sinking in,” he said. “I like my laid back living. In 2010 I found the best job ever working at Castleton State College … I am so content in what I do at CSC and I love my job because of the students …I love ya’ll and thanks for being a part of my life,” he said.
As for the future for Vaughn?
“I’ll be happy here in 5 or 10 years down the road, and I’ll play music in the summer time,” he said with that trademark smile.