All posts tagged: Earl Scruggs

The Sound of Genius

I opened the paper this morning to the wondrous news that Chris Thile – celebrated l’enfant terrible of the mandolin – was one of the 2012 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship grants. You gotta love it when a kid who starts off in bluegrass ends up being recognized as a MacArthur “genius” – the popular term for the winners of the $500,000, no strings attached annual award. Here’s the description from the MacArthur Foundation website: Chris Thile is a young mandolin virtuoso and composer whose lyrical fusion of traditional bluegrass with elements from a range of other musical traditions is giving rise to a new genre of contemporary music. With a broad outlook that encompasses progressive bluegrass, classical, rock, and jazz, Thile is transcending the borders of conventionally circumscribed genres in compositions for his own ensembles and frequent cross-genre collaborations. Although rooted in the rhythmic structure of bluegrass, his early pieces for his long-time trio, Nickel Creek, have the improvisatory feel of jazz; his current ensemble, Punch Brothers, evokes the ethos of classical chamber …

Earl Scruggs, R.I.P.

  Earl. That’s the only name you had to say in bluegrass circles and everyone immediately knew the subject.  Jimmy Martin could open the seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by saying “Earl never did do that,” and you knew exactly what he meant. Few people define an instrument and a musical style so completely as Earl Scruggs, who passed away today at age 88, did for bluegrass banjo.  Bill Monroe will forever be known as the Father of Bluegrass, but it wasn’t until he brought a young Earl Scruggs on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium for a Grand Ole Opry show in 1945 that the full sound of bluegrass was realized.  I’ll let Richard Smith, author of Can’t You Hear Me Calling:  The Life of Bill Monroe, pick up the story from here. “For Earl’s first night on the Opry, Monroe picked out a fast number that would show off the newcomer’s dazzling style — “White House Blues,” an old song recounting the 1901 William McKinley assassination.  It was a perfect selection.  …

Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman

Next week begins the summer Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman series at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium.  Known as the Mother Church of Country Music and the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 through 1974, the Ryman bills this series with the line, “Experience the best in bluegrass on the very stage where bluegrass was born over 60 years ago.”  That would be the evening where Earl Scruggs stepped on stage with Bill Monroe.  Here’s how Richard D. Smith describes that night in Can’t You Hear Me Callin’:  The Life of Bill Monroe: For Earl’s first night on the Opry, Monroe picked out a fast number that would show off the newcomer’s dazzling style – “White House Blues,” an old song recounting the 1901 William McKinley assassination.  It was a perfect selection.  Scruggs stepped up to the microphone with apprehension, knowing that nothing like this had been heard to date on the Opry or even over WSM radio. Use to the banjo as a country comedian’s prop, or hearing it picked or strummed in …

A Conversation with Fleck (not Flatt) and Scruggs

Thanks to the wonderful Bluegrass Blog for highlighting a recent online interview between banjo masters Earl Scruggs and Bela Fleck.  Scruggs (photo below) was the inventor of the three-fingered picking style that is integral to the bluegrass sound, and Fleck (photo top) is the banjo innovator who has won 11 Grammy awards and – with his 27 nominations – has the distinction of being nominated in more Grammy categories than any other musician. The interview took place on BMI.com and covers – in just a few short questions – a variety of topics.  Here’s an exchange on their first meeting: BF: Do you remember when John Hartford introduced us by any chance? I’m not expecting you to, but you came over to his place, and he invited me over…I played rhythm guitar, and then at the very end of the session, John said, “Oh, Béla plays a little bit of banjo,” and you said, “Oh, well get it out,” and then I played something for you. I remember, because I thought it was so sweet of …

Five Albums for a Desert Island – The Circle Album

I still remember coming home sometime in 1972 – I was a junior or senior in high school – and putting Will the Circle be Unbroken on my stereo.  I had started focusing on acoustic music (such as James Taylor) a year or two before, but I was soon exploring more of the roots of folk, which led me to the record bin on that fateful day when I found this record with the funny looking cover by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – a country-rock ensemble I had recently seen in concert.  There was a little patter to start the record, which was unusual in and of itself in that era of over-produced rock albums, with Jimmy Martin commenting on John McEuen’s banjo kick-off by saying, “Earl never did do that….”  But then Martin, the Dirt Band, and their musical guests were off with a rollicking version of The Grand Ole Opry Song.  Decades before O Brother Where Art Thou?, there was Will the Circle Be Unbroken when some long-haired hippies and rockers took country, …