Bluegrass musician Shannon Slaughter plans to combine his love for history and music this summer by making a pilgrimage to Hank Williams’ grave in Montgomery, Ala.
It’s a natural thing to do since Slaughter and his wife, Heather, play traditional country and bluegrass music with their band County Clare and since Slaughter teaches U.S. history at St. Clair County High School in Odenville, Ala., where he also is an offensive line football coach.
“Our annual coaching clinic this summer is in Montgomery,” he said by phone. “I’ve told other coaches, ‘I don’t know what y’all are going to do on your off time, but I’m going to Hank Williams’ grave.’ ”
Anyone who has been there already will tell you it’s not hard to find in Oakwood Cemetery Annex. You just look for the sign saying “Hank Williams’ Memorial” and the huge white stone western hat that rests at the grave.
Williams was buried there at age 29 in 1953.
County Clare will perform with the nationally known bluegrass band Blue Highway in a free concert beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Countybank Plaza in Greenwood, S.C., as part of the annual Festival of Flowers celebration. (Blue Highway will be at Augusta’s Imperial Theatre this November for the Southern Soul & Song Series).
Also tied to the Festival of Flowers, Elvis tribute artist Damon Hendrix will perform a free concert at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15, in the fountain parking lot for the Special Live After 5 party and Rock ’n’ Roll Cruise-In.
You would think visiting Williams’ grave already would be checked off Slaughter’s list since he and his wife live in Pell City, Ala., just east of Birmingham.
But the two have been pretty busy since moving to Alabama from North Carolina, remodeling a house, releasing their CD One More Road last March and getting ready for their first baby.
Slaughter, who was raised in the north Florida town of Chiefland, moved to Virginia in 1992 after joining the band Lost and Found.
He joined The Larry Stephenson Band for three years, then spent six years with southwest Virginia musicians in the Savannah Road band.
In 2004 and 2005, he toured with bluegrass artist Melonie Cannon, and in the fall of 2005 became guitarist and lead vocalist with The Lonesome River Band. He toured and recorded with that well-known group until 2007 and then joined Lou Reid & Carolina.
About four years ago, he met Heather, and they formed County Clare. It consists of Slaughter on guitar, Heather on mandolin, Casey Murray on banjo, John Boulware on fiddle and Blake Bowen on bass.
“Heather and I met through a mutual online disc jockey when she was recording a solo album and in need of songs,” Slaughter said. “I listened to her online and got in contact with her. I sent her some songs that she recorded, and our relationship blossomed from there.”
Both of the Slaughters have earned master’s degrees – Heather’s in special education and Shannon’s in history.
“I’m a history geek,” he added. “I played sports in high school, but the academic side is just as important to me. I see the value between both sides. I don’t pick one over the other.”
One song on the new album One More Road that has special meaning to the Slaughters is Tim Hardin’s If I Were A Carpenter. It has the line, “If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway? Would you have my baby?”
“We worked up that song in March or April of last year, and in December we found out that we are expecting our first child,” Slaughter said.
There might not be any special significance to it, but Slaughter said he and his wife lately have been working up their version of the Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton song Move It On Home.
REMEMBERING JEAN STAPLETON: The death of actress Jean Stapleton on May 31 at age 90 brought back some good memories of a phone conversation I had with her in January of 1987 when I was covering entertainment for The Chronicle.
Although her best-known role was as Archie Bunker’s wife, Edith, in the TV comedy All in the Family, she acted in a variety of television and Broadway roles.
And, unlike Edith, Stapleton was very active politically, especially in promoting women’s issues and supporting women in government.
During our conversation, Stapleton noted that there were only 23 members of Congress who were women and, of that amount, only two were U.S. senators.
That was 27 years ago. In comparison, the 113th Congress, which convened in January, has a record 98 women; 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House.
I asked Stapleton if she ever would run for public office.
“Oh, no, that’s not my bag,” she quickly replied. “I think it’s important we do what we do (behind-the-scenes support). I don’t question those who desire to get in politics. There is no reason why they shouldn’t qualify.
“Politics only requires wisdom and intelligence and sensitivity and the management you do with your life. I don’t care for critics who disdain an actor by simply saying they’re an actor and not qualified for public office.”
In our conversation, Stapleton said she was grateful that music was so much a part of her youth and upbringing and that the television-viewing public came to love her character of Edith Bunker, whom she described as being loving and trustworthy and intuitive with her instinctive responses.
“I got lots of wonderful letters,” she said of her portrayal.
“All I did get was to receive great affection, and I still do, and that’s wonderful.”