Every serious student of Scruggs style banjo spends a lot of time listening to the master. Open the pages of the Banjo Newsletter to almost any interview with an accomplished three-finger picker, and you will probably find a recounting of their formative years spent dissecting the seeming simplicity of the Foggy Mountain Banjo album.
I have started thinking about young Earl's early influences. Can I really understand Foggy Mountain Banjo without knowing about the tradition of the tunes and culture that underlies it? One of the major influences on Earl's musical sense comes from the Carter Family... in fact the "Foggy Mountain" theme that crops up again and again with Flatt & Scruggs is a nod to the Carter's hit Foggy Mountain Top. Lester and Earl, along with so many other rural Southern folk, were deeply affected by the simple and sometimes haunting sounds of the Carters.
Listen to Little Darlin' Pal of Mine on the FMB album, then check out the Carter version of the tune upon which it is based. To fully understand the Scruggs version, I think you must also understand the Carter version and feel the heartbreak in the words.
I put together this video montage (set to the Carter version of the tune) which shows some pictures that might have been common sights in a young Earl's world. It has helped me connect with the tune... maybe it will for you too.