Barbecue grill showman never skipped a beat

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Barbecue grill showman never skipped a beat

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Published Thursday, July 14, 2011   |  582 Words  |  

Elgie Stover has died, taking to hog heaven a rare and spicy slice of Hilton Head Island.

"I'm Elgie Stover, the black Cassanova, known for his ribs the world all over," he'd say to barbecue customers with a huge grin. They ate it up.

Over the years, Elgie's roadside grill steamed Town Hall but earned the praise of President Bill Clinton. When the president was here for Renaissance Weekends, Secret Service agents spirited Elgie's pork to him from a billowing grill beneath a live oak at Rock's Party Store near Sea Pines Circle.

Clinton sent a letter of thanks. His security agents made Elgie an honorary member of the 547th Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit because his barbecue was good enough to blast the explosive-sniffing dogs from their appointed duties.

"It kind of gives you a sense of how Magic Johnson must feel, or Tiger Woods," Elgie told a reporter. "I'm at the top of my game."

One year after the St. Patrick's Day Parade, some drunks took food right off his grill. He told them to stop. One of them slugged him. Elgie chased him with a meat cleaver.

The next morning, while authorities felt a little green around the gills, Elgie beamed: "This is the greatest barbecue story there ever was. Rather than take it derogatorily, I'm saying today that my barbecue is so good they'll fight me for it."

At the annual Kiwanis Club Rib Burnoff, competitors often display their past trophies. But Elgie would set up some of the gold records he helped write or produce for Motown superstar Marvin Gaye and others.

Before coming to the Lowcountry for peace and quiet in 1991, Elgie spent more than a decade living and working with Gaye. Elgie's voice is one of the first ones you hear on the title track of Gaye's classic "What's Going On," saying, "What's happening?" and "Everything is everything." In his liner notes, Gaye said Elgie was "certainly instrumental in provoking my thought process."

In the Lowcountry, his beat was barbecue. He grilled at the Gullah Market, then for a number of years at Rock's Barbecue until a court ruled his grill violated town code. Elgie could then be seen pulling a grill on wheels -- smoke pouring from it -- behind his truck. His last stop before bone cancer slowed him down, and almost killed him during a bone marrow transplant about five years ago, was outside Vic's Tavern at Pineland Station.

Chuck Cole Jr., whose family owns the tavern, spent a lot of time with Elgie, a Cleveland native with little formal education who started hustling in the cutthroat music world at age 17.

"He was a very, very fascinating man," Cole said. "He had a showman's personality, but once you got beyond that, a warm and wise man was underneath."

Elgie's daughter said he had several medical problems but his death Monday was likely caused by a heart attack.

Elgie Stover, known for his ribs the world all over, was 72.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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From Motown to the Lowcountry, Elgie Stover knows What's Going On