Visiting Earl Scruggs

One of my favorite pictures of Earl Scruggs shows him, just north of being a gangling teenager, standing next to his friend Lester Flatt on a tile floor, perhaps at a bus stop somewhere.  He’s already off on his musical adventures with a gleam in his eye.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs

His time with Bill Monroe as a Blue Grass Boy and later with Lester Flatt as “Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys” was by far the most productive period, producing jaw-opening instrumentals on banjo and wonderful guitar leads, especially on gospel material with Flatt.  Fewer people know about his subtle baritone singing.  I was always struck by his rock-solid sense of time, so essential in any fine music.

As with many musicians, Earl was one of my musical heroes, so I was excited when, during a 1991 visit with Nat Winston in a Nashville suburb, Nat suggested driving over to his friend Earl’s house for a little visit.

We got there in mid-morning.  Nat introduced me to Earl and his wife Louise, who I’d actually spoken with on the phone years before, vainly trying to get Earl to appear in a documentary film, “That’s Bluegrass”, made in 1978 for distribution on a TV network.  (Well, that’s another story)  The conversation tended towards the formal side at first, but Earl soon found we had several musician friends in common, and he laughed at some of my musical adventures.  At one point, he jokingly asked “Well Pete, who’s your favorite banjo player?”  “Easy!” I said, “Uncle Dave Macon!”.  Earl laughed and got up, saying, “Wait a minute”.  He went down the hall and quickly came back, holding an old Gibson open-back banjo. “This belonged to Uncle Dave . . . here, play me a tune!”

I could have dropped a whole handful of mashed potatoes and gravy at that point, but I did manage to hold onto the banjo (which was in perfect tune) and, like someone diving off a high cliff into a deep mountain pool, rattled off one of Uncle Dave’s classics “Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy.”   Earl laughed and again said “Wait a minute!”  went down the hall and came back with one of *his* banjos.  Soon, we were both picking banjos, me using what some call “clawhammer style” and Earl, well, playing in . . . “Scruggs-style”!

Well, we wound up playing double banjos for almost an hour, at which point Earl got up and fetched his guitar and we sang some Carter Family songs.  I told him that the first album of his that I’d heard was Flatt & Scruggs Sing Songs Of The Carter Family, a Columbia LP from 1962, which they recorded with Maybelle Carter playing autoharp.  I noticed that, over the mantle in his living room, Earl had the original of the painting of him from the album cover.

During my visit, I asked Earl about Uncle Dave Macon and the supposed “feud” he’d had with him at the Opry.  Earl said that the story was mainly made up, and that he and Uncle Dave became good friends from the times that Uncle Dave opened for Bill Monroe during the WSM-sponsored tent shows in the 1940’s.  Can you imagine getting to see a show like that?  Uncle Dave Macon, followed by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys with Chubby Wise, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and Cedric Rainwater?  Man, I would pay cash money to see that, even if the ticket price *was* 50 cents (which is what they were charging)!

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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