Earl Scruggs Dies
From The Charlotte Observer,
March 29, 2012
EARL SCRUGGS 1924-2012
Banjo-playing style changed country music
By Joe DePriest and Meghan Cooke
Earl Scruggs, who grew up in Cleveland County and left on U.S. 74 nearly 70 years ago to become a banjo-pickin’ bluegrass legend, died Wednesday at age 88.
Scruggs’ son Gary said his father died of natural causes at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.
Earl Scruggs was a pioneer on the five-string banjo who profoundly changed country music with Bill Monroe and later with guitarist Lester Flatt. Scruggs used three fingers to pick the Scruggs ‘banjo, instead of the traditional claw hammer style. His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as “the Scruggs-style picking” – perhaps most prominently displayed in the 1960s “Beverly Hillbillies” theme.
Despite his stardom, Scruggs was always easy to talk to, his nephew J.T. Scruggs told the Observer. Over the years it was always a special time when Earl Scruggs came back to Cleveland County for a visit.
J.T. Scruggs recalled the day in the mid-1960s when Earl Scruggs, along with his partner Lester Flatt and their band The Foggy Mountain Boys, were playing a show in the old Number One Township School south of Boiling Springs.
“Dad fixed dinner for the whole band,” J.T. Scruggs said. “They put my youngest son on their bus and carried him to the school where they played that night. He never, ever forgot that.”
Touring around Nashville
Another time in the 1960s, J.T. Scruggs and his wife went to Nashville for a Grand Ole Opry show at the Ryman Auditorium.
Earl Scruggs was recovering from hip surgery at the time and wasn’t performing that night. But he felt well enough to take J.T. Scruggs and his wife on a day tour around Nashville.
They went to the Vanderbilt University campus where Flatt & Scruggs had recently performed and drove by the homes of such entertainers as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl.
That evening, J.T. Scruggs and his wife went to the Ryman Auditorium, knowing it had significance for his uncle.
On that stage Earl Scruggs had first appeared with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe’s band in 1945. During a performance there the following year, Scruggs made eye contact with his future wife, Louise, who was sitting in the audience. They were married in 1948. Louise Scruggs, who became her husband’s manager, died in 2006.
At today’s funeral service, J.T. Scruggs will think about the music his uncle made at the Ryman. Even more, he’ll remember a person who was “easygoing, easy to talk to and very genuine.”
‘Lord, could he play’
Ben Humphries, 83, of Cliffside, can’t make it to Earl Scruggs’ funeral, but his thoughts are with the family.
As word of Scruggs’ death made headlines worldwide, Humphries remembers an all-night drive to Nashville about 1946 to hear Scruggs in person at the Ryman Auditorium.
Humphries and Scruggs grew up in the same territory, along the Broad River flowing through Cleveland and Rutherford counties.
Humphries heard Scruggs play back in the early 1940s, before he turned professional and still worked at a Shelby textile mill. In 1946, Humphries worked second shift at the Cliffside Mill. Saturday nights he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, hearing audiences in the Ryman scream for joy when Scruggs played the banjo, calling him back for encore after encore.
Humphries dreamed of seeing his hero in the Ryman someday. One Friday after work, he and another mill worker hit the road for Nashville.
“We shared the driving in a borrowed car,” Humphries said. “And we didn’t even have driver’s licenses.”
At the Ryman Auditorium, they found seats and waited for the banjo picking to begin. Scruggs didn’t disappoint.
“Lord, could he play,” Humphries said. “It gave you cold chills.”
Over the years, as Scruggs’ star rose even higher, Humphries caught his act whenever possible. Occasionally, they talked. The Banjo man was always the same.
“He was just like Earl,” Humphries said. “Sort of shy. And he always acted like he was proud to see somebody from back home.”