During the rise of rock and roll in the 1950’s, several other kinds of music still had a pretty good hold on much of the listening public, and one of the most popular was what’s now described as ‘easy listening’ music. It’s chief practitioners were orchestra leaders such as Percy Faith, Ray Coniff, and Nelson Riddle, but it might surprise you to hear that another guy actually had the most best-sellers during that era.
Billy Vaughn was quite a whirlwind for a while in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He not only led his own orchestra on many best-selling records, but was also backing up some of the era’s biggest pop stars. Included among them were Pat Boone, Gale Storm, and the Fontane Sisters, who became stars when he provided help for them on their huge hit, “Hearts Of Stone.”
Vaughn actually began as a singer and pianist, and was one of the founders of the Hilltoppers, a very successful vocal group, but within a few years moved on to become musical director for Dot Records. It was an association that would continue for many years and in the process lead to selling a lot of records.
At Dot Records Billy had a big impact on the careers of many stars, and Pat Boone was one of the biggest. He was probably the best example of one of Vaughn’s special talents — taking established R&B songs and reworking them for ‘safer’ performers. With hindsight we can debate the practice til the cows come home, but it did bring a wider audience to many tunes and eventually led to more recognition for some of the original performers.
But Billy Vaughn was also a big success with his own orchestra for many years, dominating the charts with dozens of hits, including “Melody Of Love,” “Sail Along Silvery Moon,” and “Swingin’ Safari.” He also developed a style of music that he termed his ‘twin-sax’ sound, and it became his musical trademark.
His success continued through the 1960’s, but eventually his style of music passed into the rear-view mirror for most listeners, and by the 1970’s he was pretty much in retirement. He died in 1991, but his name is still a familiar one to those who often enjoyed his feel-good music.