The People's Tribune

Musician Sees Bridge Dedication As Way To Shine Spotlight On History

David Hungate has been on many stages, but there’s one he’ll be keeping an eye on for its important legacy.

It’s the dignitary platform at the dedication for the new Champ Clark Bridge in Louisiana at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3. The retired musician’s parents, the late William and Dorothy Hungate, are credited with saving Clark’s landmark Bowling Green home, Honeyshuck.

Hungate had planned to attend. A recent back injury remains painful and likely will cause him to miss the ceremony, but he promises to be there in spirit.

“I’ve always supported Honeyshuck, and I feel that I’m representing my parents,” said the 70-year-old former bass player for the rock band Toto. “It will be a historic event, and should be fun as well.”

In addition to politics and music, Congressman William Hungate had an affinity for Pike County heritage. He grew up in Bowling Green steeped in admiration for Clark and Honeyshuck, named for the locust tree pods found in the yard.

In 1973, William and Dorothy bought the Folk Victorian and Carpenter Gothic house and turned upkeep over to the non-profit foundation Champ Clark Honey Shuck Restoration Inc.

“Anyone with a regard for the importance of history would be grateful for what they did,” David Hungate said. “My Dad was a lover of history — particularly political history, particularly Missouri political history — with a focus on Pike County. My parents, and most of that generation of people who saved Honeyshuck, are no longer here. It’s up to us and future generations to see that the work goes on.”

As with so many, Hungate is frustrated that Clark was denied the 1912 Democrat presidential nomination. Clark was Speaker of the House and led through much of the balloting at the party convention in Baltimore, but couldn’t quite reach the required two-thirds majority.

William Jennings Bryan, a former friend of Clark’s, led the campaign to back Woodrow Wilson. The New Jersey governor won the nomination and went on to defeat Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and third party candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

“His loss of the presidential nomination in 1912, or the way it was essentially stolen from him, is a lesson in the fact that life isn’t always fair,” Hungate said. “When that wronged soul is a member of your own community, lives in your own small town, the grievance becomes more personal, and more painful. It doesn’t require an excess of empathy for us to feel it still, or understand how it felt. To those directly involved, it must have been a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.”

Clark still has a message for people today because he “believed in the essential goodness of the common people,” Hungate says. Clark approved of the direct election of senators, elimination of the electoral college and was an early supporter of women’s suffrage. He also worked to unite urban and rural interests, opposed American involvement in World War I and backed a more flexible currency system.

“Many of his legislative accomplishments affect our lives to this day.”

Hungate says his parents would be “appalled and saddened by the current state of politics” in America, as is he. William Hungate played a key role in the impeachment effort against Republican President Richard Nixon. He sponsored the second article of impeachment that alleged Nixon disregarded his constitutional duty to uphold the law. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.

Hungate also was chairman of the subcommittee that investigated President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon. The subcommittee voted against pursuing charges, with Hungate voting in the majority.

Though still very much interested in politics, Hungate says he’s not seriously considered seeking office. “Unlike many current members of Congress, I know I’m not qualified,” he joked.

As far as music, Hungate says hitting the road is “a young man’s game and people who stick around too long can look foolish.” Still, he has “many good memories of my experience with Toto, and of the other music” he was involved with in a career that spanned five decades.

“The music business taught me that politics is not only played electorally,” he said.

Hungate was an original member of Toto, which had hits with “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Lesser known is his session and touring work with just about everybody who was anybody in rock, pop and country music. A shortened version of the long list includes Dolly Parton, Bryan Adams, Seals & Crofts, Reba McEntire, Glen Campbell, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Judy Collins, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Streisand, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Shania Twain, Boz Scaggs, Vince Gill and Joe Cocker.

“I occasionally play guitar in my living room for my own amusement, but no longer accept sessions or tour offers,” Hungate said. “I’m working on a book about my experiences, maintaining our farm and enjoying my grandchildren.”

Despite avoiding the stage and recording studio, Hungate hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He can’t help but get in a good-natured jab at a legendary band of septuagenarians that is touring again this summer.

“I don’t know if this counts, but I have been offered a contract to provide adult diapers to the Rolling Stones,” he quipped.

Not surprisingly, Hungate is not thrilled with today’s music trends.

“I can’t remember the last time I heard a new song that impressed me,” he said. “I know age plays a part in that, but I can objectively say that in terms of melodic and harmonic content, lyrical depth, vocal ability, instrumental talent and creative production, most modern popular music is a far cry from that of the past.”

Hungate believes music “seems to be less important to young people today than it was to earlier generations.” He then explains why before adding an “old man” twist.

“It didn’t use to have to compete with the internet, video games and 300 channels of cable. They demand less of it and it’s become a kind of fashion accessory. Now, you kids get off my lawn!”

Though he may not be able to make it to Louisiana on Aug. 3, the bridge dedication is right up Hungate’s alley.

“It will be a historic and entertaining event,” he said. “If history is any indication, it might not happen again for another 90 years. I hope there is a big crowd. Champ deserves it.”

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