Holly Gleason celebrates Earl Scruggs (1924-2012)

By Mad Dog
Published: Mar 29, 2012

This much you know:

Holly Gleason, who knows all things music, has the bigger story: Earl Scruggs might’ve been a master musician and innovator of the same caliber as Miles Davis or Coltrane, but he was more a man who sought to bring people together. As a player, his first break came in 1945 with Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys on the Grand Ole Opry, but it wasn’t long until he and Lester Flatt teamed up and spent the ’50s and ’60s barnstorming the country, popularizing the Appalachian musical form that was all ache and flying fingers. Flatt & Scruggs were icons. Standard-bearers. Gospel-carriers. And then there were the hippies. When the ’60s folk movement hit and the hippie generation erupted, he took the Earl Scruggs Review to colleges across the nation. Who he was transcended what he was. Always a player of high execution and credibility, Scruggs also believed in music’s transcendence. When country was as right as you could get and Jane Fonda the only woman more radical than Joan Baez, Scruggs couldn’t wait to make music with Baez. He also played with Ravi Shankar, the Byrds and Bob Dylan; Eastern music and inscrutable lyrics engaged him in new and thrilling ways. Which was really all Scruggs wanted: to be engaged, pushed, challenged, to see how far music could go. He was there when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." When Steve Martin got serious about bluegrass, Scruggs was there. When Elton John wanted to play with a banjo man, he was there. Indeed, he was as comfortable with Billy Bob Thornton as he was with Vince Gill or Marty Stuart –– and folks like John Fogerty and Leon Russell clamored to play with the man who’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame, has received the National Medal of the Arts, recorded "Red, Hot & Country" for the Red Hot Organization, which supports AIDS charities, and received a Grammy for his 1968 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” as well as writing and recording “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” for “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It is vast, this legacy. Marks left in places most would never think of, yet when you pull back and consider… of course. [To buy the CD of his best music from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]