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Musician skates on early success

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Vaughan Mason's personalized license plate displays his lifelong credo for success: "FAILURE."

Before you raise a jaundiced eye, keep in mind that he's a musician who is still getting paid for work he did in the 1970s and '80s.

And if you were part of the nightclub or roller-skating scene then, chances are you're familiar with one of his efforts: Bounce. Roccccccccccccccck. Skate. Rolllllllllllllllllllllll. Bounce.

It's been almost 27 years since Mason recorded the pulsating ode to roller-skating, "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll," which took him from living on the sofa of a friend's brownstone apartment in Brooklyn (five houses down from Spike Lee, no less) to performing in sold-out concert halls.

Today, the Owings Mills resident is still performing the song known for its fuzzy baseline, bongo-drum beats and choral chant.

"Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" has also become one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop music history, appearing on tracks performed by Redman, De La Soul, Digital Underground and Heavy D.

Most recently, it appeared on the soundtrack of the roller-skating film, Roll Bounce, which starred Bow Wow and Nick Cannon. In 1992, it was part of the soundtrack to the film South Central.

Mason owns partial rights to the song, which means each time it's referenced or sampled, he receives royalty checks.

He invests the money into personal projects, such as a recording studio filled with the same type of instruments he used to make his dance hall hit. "It's a music recording studio and sound recording studio for production of my personal projects," said Mason, who hopes to help aspiring musicians realize their dreams.

Thus, while many artists of his generation long burned out with nothing to show for their efforts, Mason, 55, is still going strong.

He moved from New York to the Baltimore-Washington area to attend Howard University and, after dropping out to pursue his music career, he remained in the area.

He learned odd jobs along the way when his music career occasionally waned, and now he also works as a homebuilder.

"Failure is the best motivator," Mason said. "Everything I learned, I learned through failure.

"I don't read [music], I don't write it, and I can't sing, but I can hear how it's supposed to go," Mason said. "It's a mathematical formula for me."

Meanwhile, Mason recently completed a West Coast R&B; oldies tour with such artists as Sugar Hill Gang, the Cover Girls, Newcleus and Zapp.

Mason said there's talk about expanding to the East Coast.

"They fly me out [to the West Coast] for one song. I'm on stage for eight minutes," Mason said. "But we're not playing in clubs; we're in 20,000-seat stadiums, just like we did in the old days."

But back then, he never could have imagined that a song he recorded in one evening could stay in the music industry for a lifetime.

"I got the inspiration for 'Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll' while I was at the Empire Roller Skating Rink in Brooklyn, in July of 1979," he said.

"I had read the Wall Street Journal, which said that 300,000 pairs of roller skates were being sold each year, so I figured there's no way I could go wrong doing a song about roller-skating.

"I went to the skating rink, and as I stood on the sidelines, everybody who was learning to roller-skate had someone skating backward, saying, 'Bend your knees, bounce, bounce.' That's where I got those words from, the hook of the song."

Mason said the scene also inspired the words roll and skate, while rock was the name of a popular dance at the time.

With the help of a few musician friends and lead vocalist Jerome Brown (who has since died) the group recorded the song in one night.

Mason's name ultimately became synonymous with "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll," which was released under the Brunswick label in 1980 as a 12-inch single and eventually was part of an album of the same title.

The song climbed to No. 5 on the U.S. R&B; charts in 1980. And it opened doors in the music world for Mason, who ultimately learned most every facet of the recording industry.

"What you want a record company to do is make you famous," Mason said. "If that's all you can get, you're over, because if they lose a ton of money on you and make you famous, there are so many things you can do. You have name recognition."

Yet surprisingly, after he gained recognition, Mason eventually recorded under the nickname Raze and in 1987 released the provocative dance hall hit, "Break 4 Luv."

Though the song reached No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts, Mason regrets his decision to record "Break 4 Luv" under another name, rather than capitalizing on the name recognition he had already established.

"I outthought myself on that one," he said.

Still, "Break 4 Luv" has also been performed by several artists and is featured on the video game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

"That's why publishing is where it's at," Mason said. "Publishing is like owning the land that Wal-Mart builds on. You don't give a care if they have one customer. Every month, it's 'Give me that check, baby. Your company is sitting on my land.' It's rent for life."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

VAUGHAN MASON

Age: 55

Birthplace: Harlem, N.Y.

Came to Baltimore area: 1995

Marital status: Divorced

Occupation: Record producer, homebuilder

Top hits: "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" in 1979, "Rollerskate" in 1980, "Break 4 Luv" (recorded under the name Raze) in 1987.

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