A Birmingham native, James' talents were apparent at an early age, with Premier League Everton signing him to their academy at just 9 years of age. He would progress through the youth ranks at Goodison Park, playing for the various age groups at both club and international level.
He made his professional debut as a 78th-minute substitute against Crystal Palace on 10th April 2005, with James scoring an 87th-minute goal in a 4-0 home victory. His goal made him the then youngest top-flight scorer in Everton's history and then youngest scorer in Premier League history at just 16 years, 271 days old.
That summer, James signed his first professional contract and over the next few seasons, he would make sporadic appearances for the Everton first team alongside further games for England. Winning Everton's 2006-07 Young Player of the Season award, he was also named as part of the England squad for the 2007 UEFA Under-21 European Championships. Vaughan was also an FA Cup Runner-up in the 2008-09 season.
By 2009-10, James had been an Everton professional for several seasons and hadn't managed to secure a starting place. He was therefore sent out on a series of loans.
In September 2009, Vaughan joined Championship Derby County. He played just 2 games for the Rams and returned to Everton without a County goal. In March 2010, he joined Championship Leicester City on a temporary basis, staying with the Foxes until the end of the 2009-10 season, scoring once in 8 games.
He spent most of the 2010-11 season on loan at Championship Crystal Palace, making a big impact with 9 goals in 30 games.
In May 2011, James' 14-year association with Everton came to an end, Vaughan joining Premier League Norwich City on a 3-year contract after 9 goals in 60 games for the Toffees. He suffered with injuries in his debut season at Carrow Road, making just five appearances without scoring.
James spent the entire 2012-13 season at Championship Huddersfield Town, where he scored 14 goals in 37 games for the Terriers, winning the Championship Player of the Month for April 2013 too. He joined permanently in the summer of 2013, again winning the Championship Player of the Month for August 2013 before scoring 19 goals in 54 matches across the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns.
Vaughan left Huddersfield on 26th November 2015, joining Championship Birmingham City on an initial short-term loan that was extended until the end of the 2015-16 season, at which point James left Huddersfield after 33 goals in 95 games to secure a permanent transfer to the Blues.
James would have a short stay at St. Andrew's, making just 17 appearances before a permanent transfer to League One Bury. Vaughan scored 24 goals in 40 games at Gigg Lane, earning a place in the PFA League One Team of the Year 2016-17 and a move back into the Championship, this time to Sunderland in a reported £500,000 transfer on 13th July 2017.
2 goals in 27 appearances for the Black Cats saw his career at the Stadium of Light last just 6 months, signing for League One Wigan Athletic on 12th January 2018. He made 19 appearances and scored 3 goals as the Latics won the 2017-18 League One title and promotion to the Championship.
On 31st January 2019, James joined League One Portsmouth on loan until the end of the 2018-19 season, playing 11 matches as the Fratton Park side reached the 2018-19 League One play-offs and won the 2018-19 EFL Trophy.
James joined League Two Bradford City on 25th June 2019, signing a 3-year contract with the Bantams and being named captain. 11 goals in 27 games saw Vaughan sitting near the top of the League Two scoring charts, tempting Micky Mellon to bring the experienced striker to Prenton Park on loan on 29th January 2020.
Interesting Fact: Tranmere are the 13th club of James' career, a remarkable number considering he had 7 senior seasons at Everton and was only 31 when he joined Rovers.