NEWS- Farewell, Phil: Music scene mourns Slate Hill Boy

The Charlottesville music scene is mourning one of its own, a young man who died two days before Christmas after helping shape the local country blues and bluegrass scenes: Phillip Allen Gianniny, aka "Slate Hill Phil."

Gianniny, a former member of both the Hogwaller Ramblers and the Hackensaw Boys, was found dead in his grandmother's home on the morning of December 23. The family says that Gianniny, 31, died "peacefully" but that they won't know the cause until they receive the results of an autopsy.

A self-taught musician, Gianniny could often be found playing solo banjo in front of the Paramount Theater on the Downtown Mall. In a world of goth and grunge, Gianniny was a natty dresser whose crisp white shirts, dark suits, and suspenders stood out almost as much as his deep voice.

"Tears won't fill the hole he leaves, so we'll keep throwing songs into it," says friend and former Hogwaller Ramblers bandmate Jamie Dyer, who performed at the funeral with bass player Ben Jacobs and Slate Hill Boys Charlie Bell and Andy Thacker.

"We played all Phil originals," says Thacker, who noted that while Gianniny struggled with intense temperament issues, "the people who knew him best were able to get over that."

Born into the Italian family that Thomas Jefferson launched into Albemarle history around 1784 when the eventual president needed some master stonemasons, Phillip grew up in the Slate Hill area near Scottsville and in the early 1990s performed with his hero, the late John Jackson, at Jefferson's masterpiece, the UVA Rotunda.

"It was supposed to be just a 15-minute introduction," recalls his father, Roger Gianniny. "But John Jackson wouldn't let him leave the stage, and I think they played for 45 minutes. That was one of the highlights of his life."

He needed some highlights. 

Many of his mourners recall a man struggling with substance abuse issues and occasionally getting tossed out of bars, but unwilling to break certain rules.

"He did it his own way," his mother recalls, even to the point of turning himself in for smoking off-campus at Murray High School.

"Phillip had a set of ethics," recalls his mother, Brenda Steve Sampson Gianniny, "He would not rat on anyone else, and he wouldn't lie to save himself."

Besides his parents, he is survived by his 12-year-old daughter, Julia, a sister, and two brothers. The memorial service took place Friday, December 29, at Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church.

The previous day, Gianniny's grandmother, at whose home he died and who will turn 100 years old in June, was taken to the emergency room of Martha Jefferson Hospital.

"All the tests came back fine," says her daughter-in-law, Phillip's mother. "But she's broken-hearted, and that doesn't show up on tests."

"Sure will be a hollow spot down on the mall without him," says fellow musician Will Rourk of "Slate Hill Phil"

Phillip Allen Gianniny performed with his daughter, Julia, in this 2004 concert video for his band, the Slate Hill Boys