It’s a recent Thursday night in the Lakeview Lounge, the posh bar on the seventh floor of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, and Robert Vaughn is getting “discovered” again.
This has happened to the singer/guitar player so many times that Vaughn, 63, couldn’t begin to give you a number. The only difference this time is that I’m here to watch the mini-drama unfold.
“This guy’s incredible,” gushes Randy Nelson, an Encinitas, California, resident, who is staying in the resort with Suzie Lindskog.
“We’ve been here five or six times and never even knew there was a seventh floor.”
Nelson says he asked someone earlier if any music was going on and was told he had to check out Vaughn. So the couple took a quick elevator ride, ordered some drinks and fell under the spell of the musician’s world-class voice and guitar skills.
“This is his calling. He’s fantastic!” Nelson adds. “I was thinking he had to be from some famous band and was hiding out up here.”
Nope. Robert Vaughn is all ours, a homegrown talent who found the gig of a lifetime and decided to stay put.
This month marks an incredible milestone, the 30th year that Vaughn has been entertaining people in the lounge adjoining Beverly’s, the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s exceptional restaurant.
Vaughn knows he’s been accused by some of his jealous peers of not widening his horizons.
But “I’m sitting on my ass, playing my guitar and singing and looking at that beautiful lake,” he says, waving a hand at the spectacular view.
“Things could be worse.”
I’ve known Vaughn even longer than his run here at Beverly’s. I joined the Robert Vaughn fan club back when he was singing with the Jazz Conspiracy, a terrific band that was a fixture at Ankeny’s, the top-floor nightclub at Spokane’s now-defunct Ridpath Hotel.
“There’s never been any doubt in my mind that this is what I wanted to do,” says Vaughn. “But I hear me all the time and I’m just not that impressed.”
Vaughn’s smooth and soulful vocals evoke Al Green and Stevie Wonder. But he can sing virtually anything. His repertoire has swollen to well over 1,000 songs, so many that he needs a laptop for reference.
“I keep learning songs, maybe one or two a week,” he says. “Keeps my brain going.”
Vaughn has driven I-90 from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene and back so many times that somebody should name the 35-mile stretch in his honor.
On this night Vaughn graciously agreed to let me tag along so I could experience his routine. So a little after 6 p.m., he picked me up in a hotel parking lot in the Spokane Valley and we headed east.
During the ride Vaughn regaled me with some of the highlights of his musical career. Like how he played a plastic guitar when he was 6, but it “broke when I sat on it.”
“My mom said I was singing before I could even say words,” he says. “I feel so blessed”
The year 1986 was a turning point. Vaughn married his wife, Janine. They bought a house. And Vaughn began his marathon here in Coeur d’Alene.
“This room wouldn’t be the same without Robert,” says Sam Lange, Beverly’s wine steward, when he stops by my table.
Vaughn is dressed in casual cool. Maroon slacks. Black shirt. His pleasant face is framed by a graying Van Dyke beard and mustache.
“My office,” he says when we get to the small alcove above the bar, where he plays.
Vaughn flips a couple switches to activate his amp and a Mackie sound system. He slides a $10 bill into his tip glass.
“Seed money,” he declares with a grin.
Guitar in hand – a Gibson Chet Atkins model – Vaughn starts with some soft instrumental playing to wake up his fingers.
“The Nearness of You” is his first song. Then comes some James Taylor followed by another classic, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
I’m transfixed. Every time I hear Vaughn I wind up in shock from the quality of his voice and how well he plays.
Listeners are almost always appreciative, he told me during the drive. Although “there are times that I could be up there wearing a Speedo and nobody’d notice.”
I highly doubt that.
“We just love him,” says bartender Nicole Campbell who can boast a six-year run at Beverly’s.
“People are just blown away that we have this great secret up here.”
Vaughn is fearless when it comes to material. To prove the point he launches into an absolutely stellar version of the Aretha Franklin hit, “A Natural Woman,” substituting “man” at the appropriate places.
Then “Purple Rain,” in honor of the fallen Prince. Then “Knights in White Satin,” to satisfy a patron needing a Moody Blues fix.
On paper it may sound like a bunch of random covers. Vaughn, however, has artfully arranged each tune. His extraordinary vocal skills make each song his own.
So here’s to another 30 years, Rob. And why not?
“Come on,” he adds in agreement. “This is one of the best places on the planet.”
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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