Earl Scruggs News

Picker With A Rock Ticker

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS as seen in The Orlando Sentinel
August 29, 2001
OrlandoSentinel.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Earl Scruggs waxes about the old days, he doesn't dwell on his role in inventing bluegrass with Bill Monroe or his long, successful partnership with Lester Flatt.

Sitting in his spacious contemporary home -- a former residence of George Jones and Tammy Wynette -- the 77-year-old Scruggs weaves tales from his days in the 1970s as patriarch of "The Earl Scruggs Revue." The country-rock outfit was popular on college campuses but is generally considered a footnote in Scruggs' career.

Three of his sons -- Randy, Gary and Steve -- played in the band.

The hybrid music of "The Earl Scruggs Revue" wasn't completely embraced by traditional bluegrass or country factions -- and rarely got airplay -- but it's a source of great pride for Scruggs.

The group played on bills with rock acts such as Steppenwolf and folkies such as James Taylor. Often, they played festivals before 40,000 people.

"To me, it was the most exciting thing that I've ever done," he said. "At my age, playing with my own kids and the energy they had. I hadn't played with that kind of energy before in my life."

His new CD, Earl Scruggs and Friends, is his first album in a decade. It's an extension of "The Earl Scruggs Revue." Over 12 songs, he collaborates with an impressive stable of admirers.

Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Leon Russell, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Johnny Cash and actor Steve Martin (on banjo) are there. Randy Scruggs produced the album; Gary Scruggs performs. Steve Scruggs died in 1992.

Except for "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," the album is contemporary rock and country. Scruggs is more interested in seeing how his banjo fits into a Sting song than past glories.

"He's not interested in re-creating something he's done," Randy Scruggs said. "It's about saying that at this moment, this is what I feel like doing."

Scruggs has always been an innovator.

Born in Flint Hill, N.C., he took up the banjo as a child and forged his own style by his teen years. When Scruggs joined Flatt in Monroe's band in 1945, the group -- with fiddler Chubby Wise and bassist Cedric Rainwater -- was so potent it fueled imitators and launched bluegrass.

The pair broke from Monroe in 1948 to form Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Flatt and Scruggs broke up in 1969. Flatt died in 1979. Scruggs went into country-rock with his sons. They stopped touring in 1980.

In 1996, Scruggs suffered a heart attack.

During the recuperation, Scruggs' sons talked about another album. "We asked, 'What can we do that dad would enjoy?' Randy Scruggs said.

"And dad has always loved collaborating and playing with other artists and musicians."

It wasn't difficult to nab the collaborators.

"Getting to play 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown'...was such a thrill," said David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer. "It was like getting to meet Beethoven and jamming with himon 'The Fifth.' "

Scruggs says: "I don't know what sets it off, but I just get wanting to pick once in a while."

Copyright 2001, The Associated Press

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