Menspiration | november 2012

Don Vaughn
Model, actor, neuroscience researcher

This San Diego native just might be a modern-day Renaissance man, jack-of-all-trades, the most interesting man in the world…No, really. He’s modeled for Page Parkes for the last two years, but neuroscience research is what brought him to Houston. And somehow, by night Vaughn finds the time to DJ, produce music and drum in clubs. He uses his neuroscience background to get “an increasingly ADD audience” to focus on his music rather than their phones; he built his own drum set to light up when he hits it. We have no doubt Vaughn will connect and inspire the world through all these outlets.

Z Zegna suit, Eton shirt and Tateossian cuff links at M. Penner; Bruno Magli shoes at A. Taghi.


Lee Ellis
BRC, Liberty Kitchen, Petit Sweets, Sam & Lilli

Conceptuaire is what ex PaperCity editor Lauranne Claridge calls Ellis. And it’s actually perfect for the restaurateur and boutique owner. The night before our shoot, Ellis had just signed a lease on San Felipe for the old Vida space which will be the next Liberty Kitchen. In the business since ’98 with Tonic, Ellis has learned a lot but enjoys coming up with the concept, design, development and completion. His employees inspire him every day, but he enjoys the food aspect and “the people most of the time.” Lance Feagan and Ellis basically operate everything and are working on a project in Austin right now. There’s no doubt Ellis enjoys himself on a regular basis.

 Zegna suit, accessories and shoes, his own. “New wardrobe from a recent trip to Paris,” he said.


Andrew Benak
Pitcher for the New York Yankees Organization 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a guy as down-to-earth, humble or well-mannered as Benak. The Rice University student is halfway through an internship with Spectra Energy. Benak has been playing ball since he was just a kid and seems to be calmly embracing his future. He won’t soon forget the day the Yankees called, he shares.

John Varvatos jacket and Boss pants at Nordstrom; Our Legacy shirt at The Class Room.  Belt and shoes, his own.


John Mills-McCoin
Show business is his business

Call him Mills-McCoin. He has a talk show, writes for FreePress Houston, runs open mic night at Fitzgerald’s, books comedy shows and manages a band. Seriously, this is the man with the master plan. Favorite bands currently are Hamamatsu Tom, Poor Pilot (ultimately his favorite), Fat Tony and Croon Bin (his real ultimate favorite). Ultimate goal? “I think a year ago I would have said get a stage at Free Press Summerfest, but now I want my own stage. I want to do my talk show for two days.”

Etro jacket, Zegna pants and Eye Bobs sunglasses at M. Penner; Tom Ford shirt at Neiman Marcus; Brioni and Borsalino hat at A. Taghi.


Jonathan Blake

Fresh off his first public showing of his first collection for his eponymous line, Blake has a bevy of supporters ready to raise him up to super fashion mogul status. At such a young age, Blake is mature beyond his years with a boyish sweet face. His designs are elegantly timeless.

Tom Ford jacket and pants, his own. Hugo Boss shirt at Nordstrom and Brioni shoes at A. Taghi.


Grady Gaines
Saxophone Legend

Houston blues and R&B saxophone legend Grady Gaines launched his career in the mid ’50s when he became the band leader for rock ’n roll icon Little Richard’s seminal backing band, The Upsetters. He spent much of the 1960s crisscrossing the country when The Upsetters became the go-to backing band for a who’s who of artists. Now 78, the leader of Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters maintains a busy schedule of local gigs.

How did you get your start in music? My grandfather, Andy Gaines, was a violin and harmonica player who traveled throughout East Texas and Louisiana playing on the buses for tips. My daddy, Merkerson Gaines, played harmonica mostly on the porch of our house in Waskom, Texas (in Northeast Texas near the Louisiana border). They got me and (younger brother) Roy (a blues and R&B guitarist) interested in the music world.

Who were some of your musical influences growing up? I always wanted to be like Louis Jordan. He was the one who mostly inspired me to play the saxophone. There were others, like Gene Ammons, Stanley Turrentine, Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb.

Describe your playing style. I play hard, honkin’ rock ’n roll, bluesy sax. Some people say I’m the king of the rock ’n roll saxophone.

What was your big break? Little Richard heard me play at the Peacock Studios (a Houston recording studio owned by producer/business impresario Don Robey in the 1950s and ’60s). In 1955, after “Tutti Frutti” became a major hit, he called and said he wanted me and (sax player) Clifford Burks to meet him in Brandywine, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., in a week. So we thought about it for a couple of days, then he sent two airplane tickets. The rest is history.

What was it like touring with Little Richard? The crowds would go crazy. Some shows you’d see ’em carrying three or four of ’em (fainting women) out. Little Richard was just magic to ’em, and his band was magic itself because he had all nice-looking guys in there. It was a good team and Richard was super to work for.

What other stars did The Upsetters back? Right after Richard quit the music business (in 1957), we toured behind Little Willie John, who had a hit with “Fever.” Around 1964, we did a tour with us, Little Willie John and Sam Cooke that lasted about 35 days. When the tour ended, Sam said he wanted The Upsetters to be his band, so we decided to go with Sam. (Cooke was shot and killed in 1964 under circumstances that are still shrouded in mystery.)

After Sam was killed, we became the main backing band for every major artist that was out there. We might play a few days or weeks with Etta James, Ruth Brown, Bo Diddley, Dionne Warwick, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler, Solomon Burke, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Supremes, The Crystals, Patti Labelle – anybody that was somebody.

What type of gigs do you play today? We play some clubs, like the Big Easy, but we mostly play private parties, weddings and festivals now.

What’s the secret to longevity in the music business? I was pretty wild when I was younger, but you either wake up or you’re gonna go by the wayside. Today, my wind ain’t what it used to be, so I got these other horn players to help me so I don’t have to blow so hard. There was a time when I could take that one horn and tear it up just as much as we do with these other horns. But you have to have good common sense. That’s why I’ve lasted over six decades in the music business.

Ermenegildo Zegna jacket and shirt at M. Penner, Agave denim at M. Penner, Tom Ford scarf at Neiman Marcus, Brioni belt at A. Taghi. Shoes and at, his own.


Eric Warner
Brewmaster at Karbach Brewery

Warner’s been in the craft beer business for over 25 years. He got his degree in Germany in brewing science in 1990. In other words, he’s not messing around. From Colorado, Warner’s been in Houston since last summer to start Karbach. The locally made beer’s been around for a year and is growing fairly quickly for a smaller brewery. What makes it great? It’s fresh, locally made and the variety of beers offered insures something for everyone. There’s a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Porter that is about 11% alcohol to Warner’s favorite beer – “the one I’ve got in my hand at the time.”

 Theory suit, Theory shirt and Prada shoes at Nordstrom, Tom Ford pocket square at Neiman Marcus.


Roark Austin Smith
Producer and Host of Wide Open Spaces on KPFT 90.1fm

The roots music show is on from 10am-1pm Monday thru Friday featuring old blues and traditional country to soul, funk and zydeco. Roark tries to get a local band every day if he can. With over 20 years of radio experience, Roark started off at Alvin Community College, hosted Uncastrated Album Rock which landed him a gig at the Arrow, then to KPFT’s Sound of Texas show to where he is today. Roark’s mission is to put good music on the radio in Houston, which he’s happy to say he’s doing. Now if someone could pay him for it that would be great. “KPFT does pay, but it is public radio,” shares Roark. “I don’t think any radio station would let me come in and do what I do, so I’ll take the pay cut any day to spin records.” Next time you’re at the Grove in Discovery Green and a banquet captain with the smoothest voice is serving you, be sure to say hi. Chances are it’s Roark at his night job.

 Brioni suit, Brioni shirt and Bruno Magli shoes, all at A. Taghi; Burberry peacoat at Nordstrom.


Photography by Cody Bess Styling by Vico Puente Makeup by Cori Aston + Brittany Hoffart for Edward Sanchez Vanity Lounge All Props by Gino + Blanca Vian for Funhouse 2918 Austin in Midtown