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Chester Slaughter describes himself as a humble man.
Those who know him agree.
But when he is armed with his bass guitar, his humility is outshined by his obvious musical talent.
For more than 30 years Slaughter was a member of the famous Moonlighters, playing bass for them from 1965 until 1997, when the roup disbanded.
Based in New York, they played back up for many famous musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Pride, Curtis Mayfield, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and the list goes on and on. They toured all over the United States and Europe for 32 years, generating such hits as “She’s Coming Back Home,” “Lonely Baby,” “Funky Moon Meditation,” “Your Precious Love,” and “I’m So Proud.”
Today, Slaughter still plays bass, but he is more active as the music minister at Clay Street Baptist Church in Shelbyville.
There he serves friends and family with a quiet charm and easy laugh. In fact, the story of how he became a bass player and wound up in his famous world makes him laugh right away.
Slaughter doesn’t look like a bass player in one defining way: He has half a finger missing.
“Well, I got both these fingers cut off when I worked in a tobacco warehouse when I was 17,” he said, holding up his first two fingers, one of which was reattached. “That’s just when I was trying to learn to play the guitar. And everybody said, ‘You can’t play like that!’
“But this man motivated me,” he said, pointing to a photo of the Moonlighters. “William Cochran—he inspired me. He was playing in J-Town then, and I learned how to play from him.”
From those roots, a career, a journey and strong roots of friendship grew. Even now Slaughter keeps in touch with several members of the Moonlighters.
“Me and Will, and Herbie Gibbs and Marvin Gaye, we talk just about every day,” he said.
Many of the members now live around Louisville, including Gibbs (Pee Wee Valley), Cochran (Louisville), James Wilson (Louisville) and “D.D.” (La Grange).
It was all a labor of love, he says.
“I did it because I loved it,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, and enjoy it from the heart, then you shouldn’t do it. I tell you how much I loved it; I got married, and then the very next night, I flew out again.”
In 1983 Slaughter wrote the poem “Yet I Grow Old,” which earned him an induction into the National Library of Poetry in 1983.
Now 66, he has toned it down a bit, he is still going strong, although he is keeping closer to home.
“I’m helping my granddaughter, Chesame, now,” he said with a smile of pride for that 10-year-old.
“She is learning how to play the bass, and she sings at the church, and she is good, really good,” he said with the pride that only devoted grandparents could experience.
“I will help her as much as I can; she is already writing her own songs.”
Slaughter recalled the glory days of his own youth as he related a tale that made him chuckle.
“I was just starting out, and I was playing with the Moonlighters, and we were in Indianapolis one time when Jim Hendrix and some other guys came through,” he said. “Well, we all decided we were going to go to Nashville together, and so we did, and we ended up playing down there together with Charlie Pride,” he said, laughing. “Everybody went their separate ways after that, but that was a time to remember.”
Slaughter said now that he has settled down a bit, he has cultivated another talent: lending an ear to those who have troubles.
“I just listen,” he said, a smile creasing a face lined by years filled with a lot of laughter, tears and just plain love of living. His eyes still have that old sparkle when he talks about his music, his loved ones, or his God.
“I listen to everybody, ‘cause they all have a story. And I tell ‘em, you just have to find out who your God is and stick with Him. Yes, you just have to stick with Him and everything with be all right.”
Shirley Lawrence, a neighbor of Slaughter’s, is one of those to whom he has lent an understanding ear.
In addition to being a fan of his music (“I bought one of his CDs!” she said), she says he is a “really sweet person with a big heart.”
“Ches is a good guy,” she said. “When my sister passed, he came and talked with me and prayed with me. And I’m blind and can’t read anymore, so sometimes he comes over and reads the Bible to me. I just love him.”