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pod615 - Episode 2 - Maggi Vaughn (Part 1)

pod615 - Episode 2 - Maggi Vaughn (Part 1)

Maggi Vaughn [00:00:00] They said, we've got a girl coming, and in a few days we're going to put you together because you, Maggi, you can't write a melody, but you're one of the strongest lyrics writer that's ever been in Nashville. So they said she's got a song on the charts. And I said, Oh, what's the song? And they said, Honky Tonk Girl and I said "Why that's Loretta Lynn"!

pod615 Theme [00:00:25] Up and down Broadway across the Avenues. East Nashville to West End, Bell Meade and Bellevue, Midtown, Franklin, Green Hills, Brentwood, Donelson and Hendersonville. The people. the places, the lifestyle, livin', lovin' in the 615!

VO [00:00:54] Welcome to the pod615 with your host, William Kitchens. In celebration of Women's History Month. William sat down with the poet laureate of Tennessee, Margaret Britton Vaughn. Maggi, as she prefers to be called, has served in this role since 1995. Prior to being elected to the position, her career has been quite eclectic. More than just a critically acclaimed poet, Ms. Vaughn is a published playwright and Grammy nominated songwriter. She holds a degree in theater from Middle Tennessee State University and was the first creative writer recipient of the Mark Twain Fellowship from Elmira College. In our special two part episode, Maggi discusses her career, her love for the arts and country music, and especially for the artists and members of the Grand Ole Opry. During the historic Ryman Auditorium years.

Maggi Vaughn [00:01:42] Let her go. Let her go, boys.

William Kitchens [00:01:44] Let her go. Why did you write that song? You should have written that, Maggi. We're here today with Maggi Vaughn and her wonderful companion, Keats, the ginger cat. He's here hanging out somewhere with us, getting some sun today. Maggi, how are you today?

Maggi Vaughn [00:02:03] I'm doing pretty good for an old woman and cripple.

William Kitchens [00:02:07] Who said you were old and crippled?

Maggi Vaughn [00:02:11] Yeah, Well, I. I broke my ankle in three or four places last year, and I was in rehab for a while, and I hated it. And I left. And I'm in a wheelchair. If I go anywhere and I have a walker in the house, can not, fall. You know, that's again. And so I'm very careful. I stay home a lot now. I used to travel all over the United States speaking, but I got old.

William Kitchens [00:02:40] What's the most interesting place you ever get to speak?

Maggi Vaughn [00:02:44] Oh, Lord. That's hard to say. So many places. I was in Buffalo, New York, a lot, a little community right outside that had a college there. And they brought me in all the time to speak there. The teachers would bring me in and I was there so much and the kids thought I was on the faculty and I loved it. And and what's so funny is, you know, my English teachers in high school were saying, you'll never be a writer because you can't spell. And I ended up teaching classes in college. Showed them. But they're all dead now, I think might be one still living.

William Kitchens [00:03:33] Maggi, when did you realize you were a poet?

Maggi Vaughn [00:03:36] Well, I knew I was going to be a writer when I was five years old. And when I was in the third grade. I wanted to write songs. Country music. Country music help give me my voice because of the way they phrased things. And I wrote it and I went to Mama with a sheet of paper with my song on it. And I said, Momma. I want to be a songwriter and a poet. Here's my first song. And of course it was titled, Here I Sit Alone At The Bar. Mama looked down said. Are you sure you don't want to be a nurse? I said, No, mama. I want to be a poet and a songwriter. And I kept that dream and it came true.

William Kitchens [00:04:21] It sure did. And then in 2004, you got nominated for a Grammy for a song you wrote with Loretta Lynn.

Maggi Vaughn [00:04:28] Loretta Lynn. Yeah. But, you know, I wrote for Loretta for years. She's done a lot of my songs, and I would just pitch it in there. She had a box, that she kept her stuff in her songs and she forgot I wrote it. I doubt that sometimes I didn't put my name on it because she knew how sloppy my handwriting was it was as bad as hers and she just forgot I wrote it and left me off. And I heard she was being interviewed by Mike Wallace and he said, Where are you going to be performing your Grammy nominated song? Because it was way up in the charts. It was on an album. And she and Jack White did together. And he said. Titled, "I Miss Being Mrs. Tonight". I thought Lord I wrote that and I called the office and Loretta came in. She's said little Maggi I forgot all about it. I'll get your name on it immediately. But by then, it had been out of pretty good while and I missed out on some royalties. But you know what? Money's not that important. Friends or more important money can't buy friends. If they do, they're false. And Loretta is a true friend, and I didn't get on her or anything. I mean, I love that woman, and we're very close, and I wouldn't take anything for our friendship.

William Kitchens [00:05:57] Tell me how you two met.

Maggi Vaughn [00:05:59] Well, I came to Nashville in 1960. I couldn't pass biology in college. I'd gone four years, plus a summer trying to pass it. And when I couldn't pass it, I just left, got disgusted and came to Nashville to write. And the Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle Wilburn had a publishing company and of course they were on the Opry and real big and they said, We're going to sign you to write for us. And he said, We've got a girl coming in, in a few days we're going to put you together because you Maggi, you can't write a melody, but you're one the strongest lyrics writer that's ever been in Nashville. So they said she's got a song on the charts. And I said, Oh, what's the song? And they said, Honky Tonk Girl. And I said, "Why that's Loretta Lynn"! And that Saturday night I was backstage. I used to be backstage at the Opry with all of them every Saturday night. And she must have said, which one's, Maggi? And someone said over there and she came up, she says, I'm Loretta Lynn, we're supposed to write together. And I said, I know it and I can't wait. And that night started a friendship that's been unbelievable all these years. I spoke at her daughter's funeral. I was there when those kids were just babies. Even the ones that are grown and older now. And of course, the, the twins, they were born after Loretta and I'd been friends a long time.

William Kitchens [00:07:39] Sure.

Maggi Vaughn [00:07:39] So I've spent the night at Huricane Mills there in the big old two story historical house. And I just. I wouldn't take anything for the friendship. Money can't buy friendship. And money, man, money's never meant that much to me... I mean, I have to have it to get by. And I sell art and stuff like that that I've collected through the years that helps me. Or a piece of furniture. I've got furniture that belonged to some pretty famous people. And I I've never I've never thought about money. We grew up poor. My dad was a fireman and killed on duty in 1939. I was born in 38. I was like six or seven months old when he died and Mama remarried a couple of years later, an older man, and he was a Physical Therapist at the VA in Murfreesboro, but he was from like Pennsylvania somewhere. And my brother was born after my daddy died. Mama was pregnant when he was killed, and he was transferred from Murfreesboro to Gulfport, Mississippi. And I don't I don't have to say that's probably one of the best things has ever happened to me on the transfer, because in Murfreesboro, when I was born in 1938, a girl was supposed to finish high school, get married and have babies. In that order and and that was it. And I knew then I was going to be a writer. I knew when I was five years old I was going to be a writer. So when we got to Gulfport, it was wide open honey! Gambling, strippers, girls were supposed to go to college, just liberal thinking. And I had the best of both worlds, the conservative world and the liberal world. And so what you do is you pick and choose from both of them to make your life. And I did. I've got some conservative ideas and I got some liberal ideas and I wouldn't take anything for them. And if you're going to be a good writer you've got to open your mind up and heart to everything. My family were pretty much agrarian farmers. Oh, Mama, we came down through the Crockett line. I'm kin of David Crockett. And he was raised by his uncle, which was Anthony Crockett. He was a famous Colonel in the Revolutionary War. And that's the line I came down through. And Mama used to say, we were from blue blood. And I said, Well, Mom, it picked up a little by the time it got to you and you working at the Milk of Magnesia plant in Gulfport. And that'd make her mad, but, you know what,

William Kitchens [00:10:34] Obviously had a wonderful relationship with your mother.

Maggi Vaughn [00:10:36] I did! Mama, had a hard time. And she and my stepfather divorced when my brother was I was around 12 and Bubba was my brother was around 11 and she worked then seven days a week to put food on the table. And she worked at a woman's store. Sold clothing. She also worked for a pecan company. She ran the gift shop for Washington Pecan Company. And we became very, very close to Mr. Washington, who was a widower, and...

William Kitchens [00:11:17] Was that in Mississippi?

Maggi Vaughn [00:11:20] Mississippi! That was in Gulfport. And, you know, but time times were hard and we didn't have the fancy, fancy clothes and we didn't eat fancy food, but we had a good life. And Mama did without so we could have. And Mama was a little squirrely at times. Mama. Oh, honey. Every morning she was saying, I'm dying. And she used to say it. No matter whatever disease was on TV that day, Mama had it. I'll never forget. One day I was sitting in the living room with her and she said, Did you hear that? I said, Well, Mama, she, to my ovary just blew out. Well, I mean, that was Mama. You know, Mama was a card, but did without and worked all the time and worked a half day on Sunday at a bakery because the gift shop would be closed during lunch on Sunday and that afternoon, when soon as she'd take her nap for the week, my brother and I would go to the jail and talk to the prisoners. We loved talking to the prisoners. We stand outside the bars there and we were just little kids and we went to a Saturday matinee on, you know, in the movies back then it was Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. And, you know, they'd say to the the crooks would say to the men in jail in the movies, say we gonna spring you. And so when I thought, well, we'll spring those prisoners and we took a big rope and tied it to the bar and started to a train, and that train started up and that rope broke and came back and nearly cut our heads off and it didn't hit us there but it would have. And the jailer knew we were out there every Sunday afternoon and he finally came out and said, Alright you Vaughns get inside the jail. You're safer in there than you are out here. So we had a good life. We had a fun life.

VO [00:13:32] We'll be right back to the pod 615 after this quick message from our sponsor.

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William Kitchens [00:14:26] So now you move back.

Maggi Vaughn [00:14:28] I... move back

William Kitchens [00:14:28] home to Murfreesboro

Maggi Vaughn [00:14:29] Okay.. I move

William Kitchens [00:14:29] And what year was this at home?

Maggi Vaughn [00:14:31] In 1960. I came back for one year. That's when I signed with the to do the country music. And at the time, I had maybe a couple of recordings, but nothing big. And so I went back home, cause I didn't have the money to live over a year and and started work for the newspaper. Let me tell you, if there's some young girls out there listening. Go for it. I walked into that newspaper and I said, I understand you have an opening for someone to sell outside advertising to the stores for the newspaper. [00:15:10]And Mr Smith [0.3s] said I would love to have you, but. I can't. No woman's ever been an outside person, sales person in Mississippi. I'd be the laughing stock of the convention. And I said, Well, what if I'm good at it. And he said, Well, I never thought of that, I'm gonna get you on a six month trial. Well, at six weeks I'd out sold every man in there. And he said, You're hired. Then I would come home every year on vacation to Tennessee and see my relatives. And I stopped by the Tennessean and Banner. They had a department there in the building with them called Newspaper Printing. That's where all salespeople were. And I said, I looked up the manager of advertising, and I said, You know, I'd love to come back to Tennessee. It's home and if you ever have an opening. And he took all my information, and I guess he checked me out because about three months later, he called me to come to work there. And it was summertime. And the man a lot of the men were on vacation at Gulfport. And I said, I can't I can't people are on vacation. I can't leave the paper. And he's. Well, let me talk to the advertising man over here. And he said no one has ever been hired without meeting him. They wanted me to come meet him. And he said, I'll get back with you. Well, a day later he called and he said, I told him. He said, You tell her to come on if she's that dedicated. We want her! So that's when I started working for the Banner and Tennesseean's advertising department, which was Newspaper Printing Incorporation and John Seigenthaler was publisher there, then he was passed away, but he's real big name all over the nation as a publisher. He had his own show, Word on Words on PBS and all that. So as a matter of fact, he published my first book. There's a I have a story on that if you want to hear it. Minnie Pearl was like a mother, another mother to me, and where my mother was very conservative and more wanted me to stay in my job and have a career there and have Social Security and all of that. I didn't want I wanted to move to Bell Buckle. Bell Buckle's about an hour from Nashville. It's an Arts and Craft community with writers, artists, all kinds of artists and... and it called to me through the years. I believe in signs and I'll tell you about that. When I was in about five years old, I came to Bell Buckle with my Aunt Martha, who was coming over to buy our material. Today it's all art and craft stores down here but back then there were stores, sold merchandise and I was fascinated by the name Bell Buckle, didn't care about the material or anything, but Bell Buckle just stayed with me through the years. In the late fifties and early sixties, Jimmy Dean had a show, TV show and he'd say today's special guest was Molly are it was Molly B from Bell Buckle Tennessee. And I thought oh, there's that Bell Buckle. And I loved country music. And Molly was on his show a lot. Then later when I moved back here in 1965, permanently, I was working there for the Tennessean and Banner, and I took a night class because I couldn't pass that biology in college, and I thought, I'm going to get a degree from somewhere. And I got up during a break and walked to the back the hall there to get some water. And I passed this young man, I guess he was 20, 21. And he said, Hello Puddin'. And I just stopped in my tracks. And I said, my daddy called me that. I said, he died when I was nine months old. I even have a Valentine to Puddin'. And I said, that's what my Daddy called me. And I said, What's your name? And he said, Winfred. And I just froze. I said, That was my daddy's name. Now Winfred's not a popular name like John and Harry, Bill and we became dear friends. And one day he called. We used to go, He called me because we'd go junkin', what we called junkin' on the weekends with friends, you know, old the antique shops and places that they sold junk and all that. And he said, Let's go to Bell Buckle. There's an art and craft show going on there. And I said there's that Bell Buckle again. We drove in. Half the buildings were falling in downtown. Some of them were there, but most of them were in pretty bad repair. And I looked at him and I said, Winfred, this is where I'm supposed to be in life. It's called to me all these years. And I went back and quit my job. And gave them a couple of weeks notice and moved to Bell Buckle.

William Kitchens [00:20:36] What year was this?

Maggi Vaughn [00:20:37] This was in 1982. And my mother didn't speak to me for two months because I'd given up everything that she'd hope I'd have. To move to what she called a one horse town. And Minnie Pearl was like a mother to me. And Minnie knew all about it and said, Go for it, Maggi, you can do it. You go for it.

William Kitchens [00:21:01] Tell me how you met Minnie Pearl.

Maggi Vaughn [00:21:03] I met Minnie Pearl in 1960 when I was in Nashville, and I went to a publishing company. And they said, Well, Maggi. We've got staff writers already here that write songs and they said is there anything else we can do for you. And I said, I would love to meet Minnie Pearl. And he picked the phone up and called her and he said she said, you have her meet me backstage Saturday night. I'll be there. And I met her and we became the closest of friends. She was like another mother to me where my mama was saying, Don't go to Bell Buckle, She was saying, Go for it, Maggi. There's artists there and everything. You'll fit right in. And we remained close all those years. And she asked me to write a poem about Grinder's Switch, and I did. And it's in my Grand Ole Opry book. In matter of fact, she helped me get the book published. She took it out to the Grand Ole Opry. And they called me and said, We want to do your book. And I thought, Oh, my goodness. They said, Minnie brought it in. We love it. So I met them the next day and went out there and I said, Yeah. They said, a lot of stuff comes our way, but never like this. And so I went back and John Seigenthaler, who was publisher then, heard about it and he said, I want to see it. I said, well okay. And as I said, the Opry is going to do it, you know. And he looked at and he came back the next day, said, The Tennessean wants to publish it. And I thought, oh, my goodness, you go all these years and now two people want your book. So I called the Opry I said, Gosh, John Seigenthaler wants to publish it. The Tennessean in the course. Everybody knew John. And they said, Maggi, let him do it. Said we were going to do it in October for the convention. And something may come up because this was like early summer and we not be able to do it. And they said, Let him do it and we'll buy a bunch of them. And I said, okay. So John published it and there's another story there. I've lived my life about you only get back what you give away. And one time I was in Moon drugstore eating lunch, that's out on West End when I was there at the newspaper. And I was in line to pay my bill, and there was a young man in front of me. And he had to saddest this look on his face, you've ever seen. And I said, Son, are you okay? And he said, Oh, ma'am. He said, I saved my money for years. He was from a small town somewhere near a bus ride from here. And he said, I got here to go to the disc jockey convention and it's closed out. And I looked at him and I reached in my pocket and I said, Here's my tickets. I've been every year you take my tickets and you have a good time and my badge. I said, Just pretend you're me. I said, They don't look at the badge anyway. He said, I can't do that. I said, Please. I said, I've been so many times, I would love for you to go in my place. Well, after my book came out for The Tennessean, I somebody who was handling it, came to me and said, Ernest Tubb Record Shop wants a bunch of them. They said, Since you know all of them down there, you that Ernest, you might want to take them down there. And I said, Yeah, give them to me and I'll go. Because they had boxes of them. I walked in. And the Assistant Manager was the young man I'd gave my tickets to years and years before. He now owns it, owns the place. But see, you never know in life. You know, I gave my tickets away. It came back. And it's, that's happened to me all through the years.

VO [00:25:17] The pod 615. We'll return in just a moment.

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William Kitchens [00:25:42] You've written so much great stuff. You've written so many poems about your mother. You recorded a CD called Southern Voice.

Maggi Vaughn [00:25:51] Southern Voice In Every Direction.

William Kitchens [00:25:53] Yeah, you recorded it. It's nicely done. It's got music in the background. It's well produced in the. You narrate these poems and include one called "Is That You, Mama."

Maggi Vaughn [00:26:03] Well, let me tell you how that came about. If you...

William Kitchens [00:26:05] And there's so many things about your mom on there, are they really about your mother?

Maggi Vaughn [00:26:09] Well..

William Kitchens [00:26:09] Was she a woman of faith?

Maggi Vaughn [00:26:11] Yeah. Oh, yes. Mama just stayed with me. I mean, all the years. I mean, I don't mean literally. She lived with me some, but I'm talking about in the heart. And my mama was always there. And in 1961 or 60, 1960, when I was in Nashville, not working. A position came up. My Aunt Margaret worked at Chester's Woman's store, department store downtown on Church Street. Very exclusive shop. And the man that owned it said, I know you don't have a job and you're having a hard time. There's a building that's coming open on Nolensville Road. Half of it's going to be groceries, Krogers, and the other half is going to be mine. We're going to put sale clothes in there and seconds and things like that, because the downtown store was perfect. And he said, Would you like to run it? And I said, Yeah. Well, I went out there and I was there months, and all of a sudden one day it hit me to write these mother poems, and I wrote them on paper, brown bags, and they were all mom about mamas, my mama, other mamas that I met and I knew people had. And I thought, Golly, I love these. And I kept them. And later in 19, I can't remember I recorded some of them then, or I think it was. I went in and recorded some of them then. Ah, and then later in 65 I did another version of other things, which is two CD's in one pack and I a friend of mine who was married to Dolly Parton's producer was in they're both. He was good friends and she was a good friend of mine. And she took them. She said, you got to do, those. She heard about them and she said, you got a record these. And she went to the Tennessee Arts Commission to get a grant. Now, normally you had to fill papers out all that wait and all that. And they knew me there because I had been traveling. This is when I moved back the second time, because I had traveled for them doing poetry and schools and things. And she said, I want to play you some of this. And they said, This is Maggi. And they said, Oh, Maggi. Yeah. And they said, Well, we want to apply for grant. We want to put these out on CD's and he listened. He said, You don't have to apply. He wrote, pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check right then.

William Kitchens [00:29:08] I'll read what Dolly Parton wrote. She said, what could be more precious than God, country and family? Maybe, Maggi Vaughn. Maggi has managed to put all of those elements into these great narrations. She then goes on to say that she too had a Mother of many colors.

Poem [00:29:54] Is that you mama? That just put a hand to my brow. And today, when I couldn't work things out. Was that you that showed me how. Is that you, Mama that just turned on the porch light. You always had one on to keep me safe at night. Mama was that you by the stove, cooking beans and cornbread? And was that you during the night standing watch beside my bed. Is that you mama that knocked that old bumblebee away and you that called me into supper when I came in today? I know I felt you kissed my knee when I bumped it on the chair. And Mama, when I knelt to pray was that you listening there? Is that you, Mama or was that you? Did God let you come home to me. Or maybe you never left. I was just too blind to see. Or was it I felt so bad today and you knew I needed you and God let you visit for just a day or two? Well, Mama, I'm okay now. You tell the Lord I said hi. Mama, is that you that just kissed me bye

William Kitchens [00:31:07] Melissa Manchester wrote about that collection. She said Maggi Vaughn... Sweet musings sweetly underscore the sights and shrugs of life. We are all indebted to her for capturing these delicate moments. That was Melissa Manchester.

Maggi Vaughn [00:31:23] Well, Melissa, you know, this Steve Buckingham who was married to my friend Annie produced Melissa and Dolly. And Melissa would come here a lot from L.A. and I knew her very well. And we cut up a lot. And and I tried to get her to record Born to Lose. And she said if you'll sing it and send it to me I'll cut it. And I never got to do it. I still wish she'd do that. I just think that song would be great for her. But ah, and Dolly, I knew, gosh, back when she was on Porter Wagoner and I knew them all. And so they gave me blurbs for the back.

William Kitchens [00:32:08] Well, that was nice. That's that's quite a 1995. You're made Poet Laureate

Maggi Vaughn [00:32:12] Laureate of Tennessee.

William Kitchens [00:32:14] Tennessee.

Maggi Vaughn [00:32:15] Yeah.

William Kitchens [00:32:16] And you still are., tell me about that honor...

Maggi Vaughn [00:32:17] They're supposed to we were going to... I'd let them know I've been it about 25 years and I said, look, it's time to get another one. There's only been one before me that was Pek Gunn and he had it until his died he died. But they renew mine every five years because I said, you know, you don't need to give me that for life. And and we were going to get one before COVID hit. They asked me for names to put in, and they were going to put me on the committee and COVID hit. They were giving me a big going away party here at the banquet hall in Bell Buckle. And when COVID hit, you just couldn't get together all that many people. And they still go do something, but they haven't done it yet.

William Kitchens [00:33:09] So tell me, you've written four Inaugural poems for four different Governors.

Maggi Vaughn [00:33:14] Yeah. Four or five. I can't remember.

William Kitchens [00:33:16] Yeah. And you've written the. You wrote the.

Maggi Vaughn [00:33:19] My first one was for Don Sundquist. He used me a lot, man. And. And that was the time that we had our Bicentennial. And I laugh because my Bicentennial for 1995 was entitled Who We Are. Or titled, I should say, in time, was titled Who We Are. There you hear it on TV every day. Everybody saying that's who we are. Not that they stole it from me because it was a long time ago through the years use that Nash used all the time.

William Kitchens [00:33:53] It resonated.

Maggi Vaughn [00:33:54] Yeah, it just

William Kitchens [00:33:55] It's a beautiful poem.

Maggi Vaughn [00:33:57] Well, you know, hundreds and hundreds showed up. Al Gore was there. He was vice president at the time and dignitaries when they did the official ceremony. And I read it and I talked about the different people and I mentioned the mountain people and how they were people way in the back who, you know, couldn't get up because it was so crowded. They stood when I said that, you know, different people cheered when I say something about...

William Kitchens [00:34:34] Well, I would encourage the listeners of this podcast to look that up. You can find it on Google. I did. It's in the

Maggi Vaughn [00:34:41] It's called Who We Are.

William Kitchens [00:34:42] Who We Are. And so. That being said, you have the gift, your friend K.B. Valentine, right?

Maggi Vaughn [00:34:50] K.B.

William Kitchens [00:34:53] And she said that her poems. Well, tell us about that

Maggi Vaughn [00:34:58] Well every time she puts out a new book, she comes to see me. And she when she comes in between times too. But I was she handed me one of her books and there was a letter in there. And the last word that she had room for to put on that line, she brought down in one line. And I said, K.B., Oh, why did you not just put that word up there and you brought that one word down? And she looked at me and she smiled and she says, Maggi. I write for the eye. You write for the ear. I'd give anything if I could write for the ear. But you see, it's country music. They gave me the ear.

VO [00:35:48] Thank you for listening to Part 1 of our interview with Tennessee poet and author, Margaret Britton Vaughan. Part 2 is also now available on this streaming platform. We hope you'll subscribe to the Pod 615 for future episodes of your Nashville Music, Dine Shop, Arts and Entertainment Podcast. And as always, be sure to buy and shop local as much as you can. Thank you again for your support and for listening in.


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