Whatley comes strumming home

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

If Ed Whatley had worked 40-something years for a pork producer, he might laughingly say that he is a “ham.” But, since he worked all of those years for the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, he’s just content to say he’s an old country boy that has gone back to the red clay roots of his childhood.

Whatley wasn’t born in Pike County but he came here as an infant and, after living “away” for many years, he is retired and back home. He and his wife, Joyce, are “at home” in rural Pike County – out Needmore way. Whatley is spending much of his time doing what he loves to do – play a little guitar, sing a lot and tell stories about his growing-up years in Pike County.

And, he’s still encouraging folks to “Eat more beef.”

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“With the Cattleman’s Association, what I did was promote beef,” he said. “I went all over the state talking about all the good things about beef and doing a little cooking, too.”

Whatley would put on beef cooking demonstrations in grocery stores, markets and outdoor events and he soon made a name for himself as a mighty good cook.

“I’d be doing a beef cooking demonstration and somebody else would be across the way cooking sausage or wieners or chicken and I got to noticing the spices they were using,” he said. “I’d go home and try a little of one and some of the other. I’d mix this and that and pretty soon I came up with a combination that I really liked.”

Whatley began “rubbing” his steaks with his concoction and people started to take notice.

“I was doing a demonstration using my steak shake and a friend noticed that people kept asking what spices I was using,” Whatley said. “He said that I could probably market the stuff.”

Probably turned into “can do” and Whatley’s Cattleman’s Steak Shake hit the shelves and quickly “rubbed folks the right way.”

“It’s different and it’s good and it has much less sodium that other rubs, only about 6 percent compared to up to 75 percent in some rubs,” Whatley said.

But that’s not what Whatley’s story is about. It’s about music and the man who makes it.

“I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a little boy,” he said. “And, I like to think that I can sing a little and I do love to talk. Tell stories, especially, about growing up here in Pike County.”

Whatley said his dad, J.W. Whatley, was a sharecropper and the family’s life was filled with hard knocks.

“My daddy was a strong man and I admired him and looked up to him,” he said. “He was my inspiration. I wanted to do right by him.”

Whatley said now that he is retired, he wants to spend a lot of his time going about playing the music that is a part of his heritage and his heart.

“I’m not trying to make any money picking and singing,” he said.

“I just enjoy it. I like being with people and looking back and remembering things and telling about them. Everything that I tell is true.” He added, laughing, “But, maybe, not exactly the way I tell it.”

And, everywhere he goes, Whatley adds a spice to his stories with a dash or two of his steak shake in a big bowl of sour cream and says, “Grab a pretzel and come and get it.”

Whatley doesn’t have visions of Nashville dancing in his head. The bright lights of local places are where he wants to be. He wants to pull up a stool, strum a chord and tell folks stories about poison mushrooms, visiting preachers and long, tall Texans. He wants to tell about his sister, Enid, who fought a fierce battle with cancer or his brother Bill, who as an infant, was given only months to live. Bill Whatley died two months ago at age 81, the oldest survivor of spina bifida.

He wants folks to find humor in his stories and inspiration in his stories as he basks in the love and friendship of “the green, green grass of home.”