Tuesday, March 07, 2017 - Updated: 10:27 AM
Marshall County mourned the loss of a friend last week who will be sorely missed but whose talent, charm and sense of humor will live on through the lives he touched. Scottie Henson, 76, of Benton, died March 2 at Marshall County Hospital and in the days following, friends, family and friends who became family over the years took time to share fond memories, simultaneously mourning the loss and celebrating his life.
The visitation and funeral were held at the Kentucky Opry in Draffenville Sunday afternoon, where Henson worked for 23 years and remained a friend for many years following. Clay Campbell, owner of the Kentucky Opry, said it was his honor to offer the Opry as the space for which people would gather to remember Henson, saying there was no place more fitting.
“He was a stable part of the Kentucky Opry for a long time and he was respected and loved by tens of thousands of people. He loved life and he loved to laugh and he enjoyed making people laugh too,” he said. “He was very witty and funny and he was one of my closest friends. We will miss him greatly but I’m glad that he didn’t have to suffer and he’s in a much happier and better place now.”
Tony Williams, father of Josh Williams, remembered Henson as a student at Benton High School who “was kind of amazing even back then,” around 1959-60. He recalled Henson going into the music room at the school where he would “just burn the piano up,” and then when the music director would ask where Henson learned to play like that Henson would reply, “I don’t know; I’ve just known it all my life.”
But it was many years later when Williams’ 9-year-old son, Josh, wanted to learn to play the banjo that a friendship between Henson and the Williams family began.
Josh said his father had, a few years before, tried to teach him a few chords on the guitar but the instrument felt big and “didn’t light his fire.”
“But I was watching Hee-Haw one night and Mike Snider and Roni Stoneman were doing a banjo duet and I was just mesmerized and told Dad I wanted to learn to play the banjo and he said, ‘That’s good. There’s a fella I know that lives around here who’s a really good banjo player that could teach you, he gives lessons.’ So Dad set it up with Scottie and we went out there and I met him for the first time and I guess the rest is history, so to speak. I ended up learning my very first song on the first night,” Josh said.
Williams said it was during the time Henson was teaching Josh, which was only about three years, when he and Henson became close. He said all three had the connection of a love of Bluegrass music but Henson was so personable and funny, and was so good to Josh, and it was somewhere in there, he said, the friendship that lasted a lifetime began.
“I’m proud to say he and I were very good friends for several years,” Williams said. “Scottie was a big-hearted gentleman too—he’s the kind of person that you never heard him say anything bad about anybody ever, he just lived for his family and the music. He was just a wonderful, big-hearted guy.”
Williams said there was no way to express his gratitude for Henson’s special interest in Josh, which enabled Josh to grow into the musician he is today and make a “good living” doing it.
“Our son is a professional musician now touring the world with Rhonda Vinson and The Rage and most of his musical ability was honed by Scottie Henson. Scottie taught him to play the banjo when he was 9-years-old and since then Josh has taught himself mandolin, guitar, and fiddle and bass. So he plays all the instruments in a normal Bluegrass band and as Rhonda Vinson introduces him she says, ‘And he’s such an exceptional talent he plays every instrument equally well.’ And he does,” Williams said.
Josh said what he remembers most about the first years with Henson, when their friendship was in its beginning stages, was sitting around with his dad and Henson, picking the banjo and laughing. He said befriending Henson was easy to do because Henson was “so funny” and “loved to help people.”
“He was really something else. He had really cool stories about things he had done in the past, playing music and getting to meet people like Earl Scruggs who made the banjo pretty much what it is today and made him want to learn to play,” he said. “He was always so funny and I think that’s another reason I really liked him; me being a kid and my dad being in there and he would make us both laugh. He enjoyed doing that, making people laugh and making people smile and I think that’s why he gave lessons for so many years and did so well at giving lessons because he just liked to help people, he liked to do things that would benefit people; that’s just who he was.”
He credits Henson and Henson’s special interest in him, as well as their friendship, as the reason for his success, saying he wouldn’t be the same person if Henson hadn’t been part of his life.
“I literally owe everything that I am today, everything that I do today, to Scottie and my dad for them believing in me and like I say, if it wasn’t for Scottie taking time to teach a little kid how to play a banjo, I would’ve never probably ever pursued what I’m doing now and that’s such a huge part of who I am,” he said. “I can’t say that this is all me because if it hadn’t been for Scottie I probably never would’ve been doing this. I feel like Scottie saw something in me when I didn’t and it just means a lot that he would take the time to do all that with me and because of that, it’s just the perfect friendship forever. He’s just going to be very missed. I don’t have the words that can convey how much I’m going to miss him.”