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Duo Makes Great Music Champagne Charlie's Roots Are Pure Rutherford

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From several bands, brushes with famous musicians, four years ago Phil Ruff (right) and Devin McEnnerney became Champagne Charlie, a couple of guitar pickers who play from a rich vein of the American Songbook. (photo contributed)

Music, music, music.

While Rutherford County may feel like a hotbed of sports fans, there is a clear passion for music, too.

From the live music played in Main Street venues to the Foundation and the Maple Street Theatre, lots of local folks like the sound of music.

Enter Champagne Charlie.

The duo of Phil Ruff and Devin McEnnerney, who comprise Champagne Charlie, put on a laid back, high quality show that is world class. Their blend is flawless. Ruff's easy listening vocals are a rare compliment to what McEnnerney does on the guitar. If you ever stood amazed at Doc Watson, McEnnerney is your guy. His riffs up and down the neck of the guitar with his left hand and his deft flat picking over the strings with his right leave listeners gasping in amazement.

During a recent Maple Street gig, Ruff said "Sometimes I just look over at him and shake my head."

The two are slated to amaze the crowd at Parker Binns Vineyard in Mill Spring on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 22, 3-6 p.m.

Prepare to have a real good time. They cover songs from the 20's-50's with the occasional touch on the 60's and 70's. It's hard for Ruff to wander far from his love of Willie Nelson.

They also play Hank Williams. Ruff gave a shout out to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

"I guess we could call ourselves Cowboy Charlie, but I'd have to wear a different hat," Ruff told the Maple Street crowd from under the brim of a hat that put his recent nose surgery in shadow. While working the crowd during intermission, he had to admit he had not been in a bar fight.

Ruff not only does all the singing, he also does all the talking. McEnnerney is saving himself for picking. And, have mercy, he can pick.

Maybe not everybody, but an awful lot of people will recognize Blue Skies or Ain't Misbehavin' or Mack The Knife. The list goes on and on. Lots of feet were tapping and heads bobbing to songs that have stood the test of time.

Ruff said at one point, "Must be a good song to have lasted that long."

Both players were born here. Although they have traveled far and wide, they are glad to be playing music in their home county.

Ruff said, "I first played for money when I was 14. I think I started when I was 12. I worked a week at Hardee's and knew that was not for me, so I've just always seen myself playing music. I probably could have made a more practical choice, but that just wasn't me. I think in that first band, when I was 12, neither of the guitar players could actually play the guitar. I was the drummer."

Both have had their brushes with the greats. McEnnerney tells of playing with Bo Diddley Jr. He came to a venue without a band. Devin and his younger brother, Brennan, were hanging around. "He asked whose guitar case that was over there? I said it was mine, but I couldn't play with a performer of his quality. He told me he would show me what to do. My brother was diving for cover, but he noticed a drum kit and matched him to that. He showed us both what to do, and when he did, we could do it. It was a major lesson in how a professional, touring musician does what he does."

Ruff remembers a time Doc Watson needed a band. He ended up on the drums and his fellow Mama Said band members, Doug Trammel and Randy Saxon, played guitar and banjo.

In his self-effacing, laid back style, Ruff chuckled and added, "So, yeah, I played once with Doc Watson."

Mama Said hung together for ten years, including a year on local access television through Gardner Webb. In addition to Ruff, Trammel and Saxon, the band included at different times, Sandy Carlton, Nancy Owen, and Greg Turner.

"When you stay together that long, you have some personnel changes," Ruff said. "We played everywhere from the Grove Park Inn to biker bars, some places we were glad to get out of."

Ruff also loved an afternoon with Rutherfordton native Fred Foster, who helped Kris Kristofferson write Me and Bobby McGee. Foster, former president of Monument Records, had an early influence on the careers of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Foster died this past February at age 87.

"He spent the whole afternoon with me. I guess it was because I was from Rutherfordton," Ruff said.

McEnnernerney's earliest influences included his maternal grandfather, George Watson. "He was always putting musical instruments in our hands."

Watson was well known in the community for playing and singing.

He also credited locally famous band leader, Louie Deviney, who conducted orchestras for the various incarnations of his father's and mother's stage productions dating back to the late 60's. Matthew and Diane McEnnerney were among the riveted crowd at Maple Street to watch their son do to guitar strings what Michael Jordan used to do to basketball courts.

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