Junior Daugherty, known to only a few by the more official Forest Alton Daugherty, Jr. left this world on March 8, 2023, the way he lived his life, on his own terms. Born into the Silent Generation at the beginning of the Great Depression, Junior grew up in rural New Mexico where survival meant developing an early fondness for canned tuna fish with mayonnaise, and pinto beans. Much to the chagrin of his family, both delicacies continued as main staples through the entirety of his existence. Learning the traditionalist value of "doing more with less" by necessity, things were made not bought. Junior grew up in a home built by his father and marveled at how the wind would blow sand through the wall slats, creating small dunes on the floor below. Not great at keeping out the weather, the gaps between boards did make a perfect spot for his roommate, Uncle Claude, to store his chewing tobacco before going to sleep.
Because radio was the only affordable entertainment available, listening to the western swing sounds of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys was routine. It wasn't a surprise that as the first of two children and the only son of Forest Alton (Alton) and Corabel Daugherty, his momma insisted on two things when he was born, that he would be a boy and that he would someday be a fiddle player. As mothers often are, she was right on both accounts. It may have taken Junior a few years to get from the fiddle his grandaddy, Jasper Daugherty made and gave him on his first birthday to the musician he would eventually become but make it he did. Surrounded by music from his very beginnings in a family where everyone played something, Junior often lay in bed as a youngster listening to the sounds filtering through the living room wall on a Saturday night and dream of the day he'd be able to join in. It didn't take long. By the age of eight he was picking the guitar, and at 16 he took up his beloved bow stringed instrument, turning it into his life passion.
While his buddies signed up for football at Alamogordo High School, Junior joined the orchestra. As they gathered in the neighborhood for weekend pick-up games, Junior remained indoors working out new songs. Confused and confounded by his choices, Junior's dad once told him he'd thought his teenage son was the laziest youngster around but finally realized it had "all worked out just fine." Fiddle contests quickly became a favorite outlet where Junior was able to jam with like-minded folks and learn new tunes, all while refining his craft. Money was tight though, and winning was never guaranteed which provided the perfect inspiration for launching the Whippoorwills Western Dance Band. With sister Ruby on the upright bass, and cousin Maynard on the guitar the trio began playing live over the air on the KALG radio station and in dance venues across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. Eventually, the Whippoorwills gave way to a different set of musicians and the more polished sound of The Mavericks.
In 1951, as the Korean War raged and the United States reinstated the draft, Junior and most of his friends enlisted in the United States Navy, believing that by doing so they would all enjoy the military experience together. Their well-intended idea failed though, and they didn't see one another for the next four years. Before shipping out, many believe that Junior pulled off one of the greatest coups of his life when he managed to convince the beautiful, young president of the Theta Rho Girls Club, Ms. Verla Mae Clay, to marry him. His success muddled the dreams of many a young suitor as he legally secured the lovely for himself. Asked why he decided on marriage a mere two months before reporting for active duty, Junior stated simply that he knew he'd better snag Ms. Clay before someone else did.
War time brought a temporary pause to Junior's musical career as his focus was diverted to using his near perfect pitch for identifying potential threats at sea. When Navy personnel learned of Junior's background, they moved quickly to assign him as a sonarman. The hearing test required Junior to consistently identify a wide range of pitches and proved no challenge for the young enlistee until he hit the upper end of the frequency. After years of controlling allergy symptoms brought on by living in the dry and dusty environment of New Mexico, Junior had become an expert of the Valsalva maneuver. Unfortunately, while over-pressurizing the middle ear can clear sinuses, it can apparently also cause hearing loss. His failure to catch the very top end of the spectrum caused distress at the testing center. After each failed attempt, Junior was sent to the Dispensary for an ear wash and the hearing test was repeated. On the third try, Junior heard the high register, identifying every pitch, and the deal was sealed.
Always up for adventure, Junior moved through life aboard the USS Henry W. Tucker with little complaint. Even when on June 28, 1951, their destroyer came under attack as it steamed into the North Korean Wonsan Harbor to retrieve an intelligence party from the Western coast. Junior and a shipmate dove behind a stack of crates for protection as enemy shells flew. When the shooting was over the duo discovered that the boxes they had sought refuge behind were artillery boxes. That the two survived without ending up as tiny bits dispersed into the harbor continues as family lore.
When his time listening for underwater pings concluded in 1955 Junior and Verla settled in Alamogordo adding three daughters, Penny, Voni, and Tammi, to the clan. It didn't take long to decide that playing weekend gigs and working as an electronics specialist wasn't going to allow the life he wanted for his girls. In 1965, Junior and family relocated to Las Cruces so that Junior could pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. During his time at New Mexico State University, Junior met the owner of a small backyard recording studio who worked on campus and was also the band leader for the Aggie Rambler Dance Band. As luck or fate would dictate, the band was looking for a fiddler, and the meeting launched a relationship and recording partnership spanning decades. Working days at NASA monitoring rocket launch data from White Sands Missile Range, nights and weekends still found Junior doing what he loved most at dance venues across the country.
Eventually settling into the musician's lifestyle of working days and playing nights, gradually working days became fewer and playing took over. As his name became well known in music circles, Junior found himself living the life. Even though he was ranked in the top five fiddlers in the nation, with hundreds of trophies and dozens of records sitting on shelves in his Mesilla Park home, it was the title of Best Liked Fiddler voted on not by judges but by his fellow contestants, that he most cherished. To the frustration of his wife, Junior was nary a businessman or one to care about the financial aspects of fame. Instead, it was always about the human connection. His love of music and informing next generations of musicians inspired him to mentor and motivate. It mattered not what time it was, who it was or where they were from, if there was an interest, he was all in.
It wasn't his appearances at Carnegie Hall or concerts in Southeast Asia, North Africa, or the Middle East he spoke about. It wasn't the albums he produced or that he was once contacted by a representative of the Rolling Stones rock group asking if he might record fiddle on an upcoming release. He didn't care about whether his name was recognized or how many dollars might be involved. It was the music and the relationships he'd built that mattered most to him in the beginning, and in the end, nine decades and some change later. And it was the sounds of a fiddle bow pulled straight and true across the strings that brought him joy.
As age settled in and his world became smaller, Junior spent many hours watching videos of friends and family sharing his music. His fingers tapped to the rhythm and his toes moved to the sound, and in a quieter than usual voice, a bit of harmony would follow. His last day on Earth he picked up his beloved fiddle, expertly tuned each string and gently held it to his chin. And with arms less stable and fingers less nimble he closed his eyes as he often did and played Junior's Waltz for the very last time. When the sun began to set, he asked for his black felt Stetson and announced to his family that he was ready to go home. As he drew his last breaths, Ray Price's "Faded Love" was wafting properly across his room. And as he would say, it just doesn't get any better than that.
Preceded to the Pearly Gates by his beloved wife Verla, second wife Judith Osborn, daughter Penny Marie Daugherty-Anderson, and sister Ruby Daugherty, his daughters Voni Daugherty (Scott Caruso) of Arvada, CO, and Tammi Daugherty-Stuart (Robert Stuart) of Colorado Springs, CO are left to imagine the scene and somehow carry on his legacy. Adored by granddaughters, Bobbi Smith, Billi Gossett, Rebecca Stuart, and Mikahla Aragon, Junior was thrilled to finally have testosterone infused into the mix with grandsons Sean Pyrtle, and John, Taylor, and Austin Whittier. Upon cremation, Junior's request to be split between his daughters and prominently displayed in his favorite Jose Cuervo tequila bottles will be considered.
In lieu of flowers, Junior and family request consideration for donations to The Ashokan Center where he taught western swing classes every June for nearly 40-years. https://ashokancenter.app.neoncrm.com/forms/growing-the-future
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