For more than 40 years, McWhorter has been “creating,” and he has made a living commuting down a flight of stairs to his clay studio or into his music room.
“Each day now for me is a balancing act between the clay and the music,” McWhorter said. “I’m strumming the guitar as I head toward the pottery studio. A few hours later, I think of an excuse to head to the kitchen, pick up an instrument and it’s back and forth all day and into the evening. I really enjoy this work-and-play thing.”
McWhorter will perform Jan. 5 at the Lowell Opry House, where he will be joined by legendary steel player Charlie Vaughn in what is being billed as his farewell performance.
McWhorter is one of several acclaimed musicians to come out of Bowdon. From 1978 until 1982, as one of the founding members of the rock group Ziggurat, McWhorter’s music became the main focus of his career with two major album releases.
The second album, “Melodic Scandal,” was produced by Eddy Offord, who also produced Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Following a few years of touring with the band, McWhorter settled back in Carrollton to continue his clay work while raising a family. He would travel once or twice a month, with family, to arts festivals all across the country, rarely ever missing a national park or an adventure along the way.
Now with daughter Arielle and son Alex having graduated from the University of Georgia, McWhorter continues to sell his art work across the country. This year he has won five Best in Clay Awards in Orlando, Park City, Utah, Sun Valley, Ida., Cincinnati, Palm Beach, Fla., and Best in Show recently at The National Kentucky Folk Festival in Tuscaloosa/Northport, Ala.
Also on Jan. 5, the George Britt Band perform a tribute to Conway Twitty while showcasing Charlie Vaughn on some of the steel licks shared with him by his friend and Conway’s former steel player, John Hughey.
“It saddens us to say goodbye to a great friend and one of country music’s finest steel guitar players,” said George Britt, founder of the Lowell Opry House.
“It appears that my music career has officially come to an end,” Vaughn said. “It has been a great run and I have many great memories to recall. I have worked with some great musicians that I will never forget, some of them are no longer living. I will never forget my days in Nashville and the years I spent on the road.”
The 73-year-old Vaughn was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 following career in which he has worked with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Connie Smith, Tony Booth, Charlie Pride, Kenny Price, Faron Young and Billy Walker.
Vaughn caught the music bug in high school, playing piano in a rock band. Later, at West Georgia College, he and a few buddies formed a rock band called The Collegiates, with whom he played in his first professional show opening for Jerry Lee Lewis in Birmingham, Ala.
Though he was enjoying moderate success with rock music, Vaughn’s passion had always been country music and when he discovered the steel guitar there was no turning back.
“I’d always liked country music,” he told the Times-Georgian in a 2009 interview. “I listened to country music from the time I was old enough to turn on the radio, but there were no country bands around here. There were no high school guys playing country music for sure, so I just played in a rock band at first just to be able to play.”
Vaughn bought his own steel guitar in 1962 and taught himself how to play. Mostly, he learned by listening to records and “figuring the licks out” along the way.
Vaughn hooked up with the Smith brothers, “Tennessee” and “Smitty,” who were playing at the local American Legion and needed a steel guitar player. He performed with the Smith brothers about six years, meeting other musicians along the way before becoming a steel guitarist for hire.
Vaughn eventually landed a regular job performing in Atlanta at the Play Room, a popular country music spot at that time, before joining a band formed by a man named Sammy Tucker. Tucker later opened a club in Atlanta called The Nugget that would lead to Vaughn realizing his dream of playing in the Mecca of country music — Nashville.
“(The Nuggett) just got bigger and bigger,” he said. “There isn’t any telling how many Nashville stars I met. Meeting them and playing with them at The Nugget, my reputation as a steel guitar player just got bigger and bigger.”
Vaughn left the club scene in Atlanta and came back to Carrollton in the late 1970s when The Nuggett burned down along with his steel guitar. He basically gave up music and went to work as an electrician, but it wasn’t long before he was performing again.
“Some of my favorite memories are from my days in Atlanta with Howard Garmon, Jimmy Garmon, Bill Benton, Jody Payne and Roni Goss. We had a great band. Thanks to Sam Tucker for making that happen. I will never forget those days. I have met a lot of wonderful people and almost every big-name steel player, my favorite being John Hughey who was my good friend. I will have these memories to recall for the rest of my life. No one can take that from me.”
Admission to the Jan. 5 show is $10. Advance tickets, which are recommended, are available at Round 2 Consignment, 728 Bankhead Highway, Carrollton, or online at lowellopryhouse.com. The show starts at 7 p.m. and doors open at 6 p.m. Lowell Opry House is at 821 Liberty Church Road in the Lowell community.