False Comparisons and a Humble Attitude

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Posted by Steve Johnson on August 08, 19101 at 19:34:53:

Dear Fellow Bluegrass and Banjo Enthusiasts (especially Tim, Ferd, and Randy "Re: Earl Scruggs"

The truth is that Earl Scruggs was and is incomparable. One cannot compare him with Ralph Stanley or to any other banjoist that followed him since his first days with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

Earl remains the standard for articulation of tones, timing, phrasing, and separation of tones for the Classic Bill Monroe (or Flatt and Scruggs) style of Bluegrass band. Even Bill Keith could not duplicate Earl's sound. Neither could/can Ralph Stanley. And to be honest, even J.D. Crow cannot match Earl's classic sound from 1948 to 1955. For years I have heard, and our fathers before us had heard, that there is some kid down in California or Texas or New England, etc., that can play like Earl Scruggs. Well, I would have to hear them to believe them!

But, the top banjoists have created their own sound. And that is why they offer a richer contribution to the development of the music. Bill Keith contributed melodics. Ralph Stanley contributed a mountain/modal sound with an unorthodox 4th-string/index finger pattern. Don Reno added the single-string and chordal flashes brilliantly. I could continue with the list. But, none of them has produced such a fluent, articulate rolled (arpeggiated) sound like Mr. Scruggs.

So, feel free to compare in private. But, honor the master, Mr. Scruggs. Also, folks, I think it disrespectful and very arrogant to criticize Earl's present playing. This is somewhat like criticizing Ted Williams because he does not hit .400 anymore. Well, Ted is over 80 years-old. And maybe Earl, who is around the same age as my father, 77, has decided to explore other things in life. But, to see or meet Earl, regardless of how he now plays, is an honor. I saw Mr. Monroe play in his last years. He could not play or sing like he did twenty years before. But, his high tenor and dignity could still raise the hair on the back of my neck.

I have enjoyed this web site. Let's access it to honor Earl and to share love for the music. let's not use it to stimulate a fan competition.

Regards, Steve Johnson.

P.S.: My banjo style has been influenced by Earl, Ralph, J.D., Butch Robins, and Bob Black. And Jack Hicks and Bobby Thompson are monsters. Thanks for each of them.

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