Malford Milligan and Tyrone Vaughan are bringing the rockin' blues to you. Yeah, YOU.EXPAND
Malford Milligan and Tyrone Vaughan are bringing the rockin' blues to you. Yeah, YOU.
Photo by Stan Martin/Courtesy of Pucci Media

The Milligan Vaughan Project Offers a New Brand of Texas Blues

It’s easy to see the major impact that Hurricane Harvey has had in Houston; all you have to do is turn on the TV to see the suffering and the damage. But there are also thousands of other, far less consequential impacts on daily life that could border on the absurd.

Like, say, conducting a smartphone interview with singer Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan from the front seat of your car in the parking lot of the Town and Country Mall. Since the office building you were originally going to call from was closed for flooding.

So with an iPhone 5 on speaker and three-way calling setting in one hand and a digital recorder in the other, I spoke with the principals of the new Austin blues-rock band the Milligan Vaughan Project. Spoke about their new record, the plans to spread Texas blues across the world, and the weight of a very famous name.

“It hurts me that Houston got flooded out like that. I just hope we can bring a little light to that situation with our show,” Milligan offers about the duo's upcoming show at the Continental Club this Saturday.

“We can take people out of their bad stuff for just a little bit. That’s my mission. I’m a singer, but my job is to take people out of their daily lives because life is rough! With or without a flood,” he continues. Milligan was just in Houston last Sunday, singing a few tunes at a fundraiser for hurricane-affected musicians at a benefit put on by the Gulf Coast Blues Society at Fitzgerald's.

“Houston is such a great city in general for the arts,” Vaughan adds. “And fans there are diehard, and they let you know that they support you. And they spread the word. I want to get this band up and running in Texas, and we need to rock Houston and deliver the blues that they know and love.”

The pair have known each other since the ‘90s while knocking around the Austin music scene and playing in some semi-famous groups – Malford with Storyville, and Vaughan with the Royal Southern Brotherhood. But it wasn’t until 2016, when Milligan was at roots-rocker John Gaar’s show at the Saxon Pub, that he got a call from Vaughan during the show in which the guitarist pitched the idea of a partnership.

And Milligan’s answer? “I said hell YEAH, let’s do it!” the singer says, laughing. “I think we make a great combination.”

“As the years kept going by, we were two of the cats still doing it,” Vaughan adds. “I always wanted to collaborate with Malford, and the timing was right.”

The result is the MVP's self-titled debut CD. It features nine studio and two live tracks of blues busters, smoky torch songs and house-rockers. In addition to Malford and Vaughan (who have one co-writing credit), writers include the album’s producer, guitarist David Grissom; Dan Dyer; and Davey Knowles. There are also covers of tunes originally performed by Buddy Guy, Freddie King and Tower of Power.

The band’s name, of course, also includes the names of its co-founders. And Tyrone Vaughan is also keenly aware that a portion of his audience will be attracted, at least initially, by the family lineage.

It’s hard enough to stand out of the shadow of a famous musician father if you’re in the same business. But there’s an added thick layer when your uncle is an out-and-out icon. But Tyrone — son of Jimmie and nephew of Stevie Ray, who gave the then-preteen his first guitar — is prepared for the balancing act.

“I have to embrace both ends of it," he says. "The style of music is so concrete. Just the look, the feel, the walk, the talk…those guys did it before me. They laid down the tile that I’m walking on now. So I have to give them a nod every night, and it’s an honor.”

Milligan, though, is quick to interject on his bandmate’s behalf, lest you come looking for something this band is not. “[What] I’ve got to say is that Tyrone sounds like Tyrone. The cat can play the blues!” he says, laughing. “But it’s him. He doesn’t sound like anybody else. His family put down the foundation, but he sounds like himself.”

The band is managed by longtime Austin music fixture Mark Proct, who has recently put out a book of his photographs from over the decades. His recent signing at Cactus Music also doubled as the local debut of the Milligan Vaughan Project, who played a scorching half-hour set at the store before opening for Louisiana blues master Tab Benoit at a more traditional concert venue later that night.

In a recent interview with the Houston Press, Proct said the biggest change he saw in the Austin music scene from the ‘70s to today is that going to see live music and just the consistent importance of music, in general, is not woven into the fabric of the city nearly as much as it used to be. Milligan agrees.

“Different people have migrated to Austin because of the tech boom and jobs, and music is not the biggest part of their lives. And some of our fans got older, had kids, had things to do,” he offers. “So it’s a big deal when you can get people out of the house. That’s why we want to put on a great show. We don’t want to be jiving!”

As to how Austin blues differs from that of other cities, he adds that it has a great history – even though it’s Dallas guitar players that largely made Austin blues what it is. And that the sound is more “earthy.”

Going forward, Vaughan says that the Milligan Vaughan Project (which also includes bassist Chris Maresh, drummer Brannen Temple and keyboardist Michael Ramos) just wants to play as much as possible, building a solid base in Texas while reaching out to the rest of the country both in headlining gigs and hooking into the blues festival circuit.

Milligan also really wants to play Europe, something he never got to do with Storyville — which, in a neat twist, included Stevie Ray Vaughan’s old rhythm section of drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, along with David Grissom.

“Our plan is to work, bottom line,” he sums up. “From stem to stern and get it done!”

The Milligan Vaughan Project performs 9 p.m. Saturday, September 24, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main.

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