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Mar 29, 2022 - 2:56:02 PM
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7391 posts since 9/29/2004

I began to wonder about how may others here were inspired to play the banjo after listening to Earl Scruggs for the first time.

My own first came in early June, 1962. I had just graduated High School, and was bored, so I turned on the Tonight Show, a TV program I seldom watched. Jack Parr was the host back then.

After his monologue, Jack brought out a band who was going to appear soon at Carnegie Hall. The Foggy Mountain Boys. I'd never heard of them, but I thought they were a country band, and that was unusual for late-night TV at the time.

When Lester and Earl came out in their suits, string ties and Stetson Open Road hats, they looked like an average local country band to me; I expected I would see some flashy Nashville outfits with lots of embroidery.

Earl played the guitar on their first number, and that didn't impress me much either. But before I could turn the TV off, he disappeared for a second while Lester said something like "Earl's gonna put his banjo on now."

I liked the banjo. I liked the Kingston Trio, and I liked the way the banjo made their songs sound different. That sound was nothing like the Dixieland banjo sound I'd heard all my life. It was simpler, more primitive, and somehow, more emotional.
So I figured I would stick around and see what Earl could do on his banjo. It was going to be different from the Kingston Trio, for sure, but I didn't expect to hear anything much different.

And Earl walked into view playing it. About 3 minutes later, I realized my mouth was hanging wide open in awe and shock. I felt like I had just been hit by a stray thunderbolt.

I can't remember either song they played at all. The only thing I clearly thought was; How is he doing that?

Earl was barely moving at all. Even his hands didn't appear to be moving very much, but this tremendous sound was pouring out, immensely powerful, at blazing speed. I had never heard anything that fast and powerful sounding in my life before then.

And from that moment on, capturing that sound was something I wanted to do more than anything in the world. It was an instant compulsion.
And it has stuck with me ever since. Within 6 months, I had a banjo of my own that never left my side. If I wasn't playing it, I was thinking about playing it, and the banjo changed my life forever.

60 years later, I still have a banjo by my side. It took me to many places I would have never seen, introduced me to many people I would have never known, became my calling card to hundreds of other folks who didn't know me, and has made me a lot of money that I would have never earned without it.

It landed me work in places I would have never walked into, and it even changed my body. I honestly do not know what my life would have become without the banjo.

Nothing in my life has ever changed that fast and completely, before or after those few minutes.

...and I still can't play like Earl. I never could.

Do any of you have your own stories about Earl Scruggs?
regards,
stanger

Edited by - stanger on 03/29/2022 14:58:01

Mar 29, 2022 - 3:20:03 PM

1091 posts since 5/22/2021

Well, I have to admit that Pete Seeger was my main inspiration, and left me learning about the lives of other great musicians, like Roscoe Holcomb, Jim Garland, and many more, including Earl Scruggs.

I do not think I can get the speed and syncopation as fast and "compact" as Earl, and other Blue Grass pickers have, but I do enjoy all these types of banjo music. Pete's blue-book inspired me for that.

I think Pete passed back in early 2014, near 8 years now. Despite that, I happened to learn about him through some songs I heard when I was a bit younger, and now as a older high schooler I see a lot more about him than I previously did!

The picking of Eric Weissberg was one of the few pickers that closely matched that of Earl, in my view, but never as complicated or as fast.

Russ A.

Mar 29, 2022 - 3:38:58 PM
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KCJones

USA

1718 posts since 8/30/2012

Listen to the commercial music of the time, and the state of banjo musicianship, 2 years before Earl Scruggs hit the scene.

Then listen to the commercial music of the time, and the state of banjo musicianship, 2 years after Earl Scruggs hit the scene.

I've said it before and I'm probably preaching to the choir, but it's my opinion that Earl Scruggs was one of the most influential musicians in the entire history of recorded music.

Edited by - KCJones on 03/29/2022 15:39:41

Mar 29, 2022 - 4:20:22 PM
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6603 posts since 10/13/2007

Hearing the Foggy Mountain Banjo Album for the first time was mind boggling. Great song after great song and all sorts of new hot sounds. I had heard banjo before (clawhammer & dixieland) and liked the tone of the banjo but that album was a whole new world.
ken

Mar 30, 2022 - 3:12:29 AM
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3755 posts since 7/12/2006

I may be a Stanleyphile, but i'll admit that Foggy Moutain Banjo is the greatest banjo album of all time . Nothing wil ever top it. It laid the foundation and set the bar for all banjo playing ever since .

Mar 30, 2022 - 7:07:42 AM

beegee

USA

22962 posts since 7/6/2005

My earliest influences were Grandpa Jones and Ralph Stanley. mainly because my brother was buying record "deals" from Jimmy Skinner Music in Cincinnati and Ralph and Grandpa were among what he bought. It didn't take long to discover Earl, but my brother was a Stanley Brothers fan, so that's what I listened to the most. Grandpa fell by the way, but I still liked his novelty songs, such as Fifteen Cents is all I've Got.

Edited by - beegee on 03/30/2022 07:08:28

Mar 30, 2022 - 7:29:25 AM
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phb

Germany

3341 posts since 11/8/2010

I knew that Steve Martin played the banjo and was friends with Paul Simon, a musician I admire. I wanted to get back into playing guitar but somehow came up with the idea that I should perhaps pick up the banjo instead because it wouldn't be so frustrating to learn something new as to try and relearn what I once could play on the guitar. I watched some youtube videos with Steve Martin and quickly ended up putting the Letterman show appearance with Earl ("Men with Banjos Who Know How to Use Them") in endless repeat. That was how I learned about Earl Scruggs and how I decided to eventually buy a banjo (I still had to figure out the 4-string, 5-string, 6-string stuff...).

Mar 30, 2022 - 5:26:11 PM
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978 posts since 6/6/2008

quote:
Originally posted by stanger

I began to wonder about how may others here were inspired to play the banjo after listening to Earl Scruggs for the first time.

My own first came in early June, 1962. I had just graduated High School, and was bored, so I turned on the Tonight Show, a TV program I seldom watched. Jack Parr was the host back then.

After his monologue, Jack brought out a band who was going to appear soon at Carnegie Hall. The Foggy Mountain Boys. I'd never heard of them, but I thought they were a country band, and that was unusual for late-night TV at the time.

When Lester and Earl came out in their suits, string ties and Stetson Open Road hats, they looked like an average local country band to me; I expected I would see some flashy Nashville outfits with lots of embroidery.

Earl played the guitar on their first number, and that didn't impress me much either. But before I could turn the TV off, he disappeared for a second while Lester said something like "Earl's gonna put his banjo on now."

I liked the banjo. I liked the Kingston Trio, and I liked the way the banjo made their songs sound different. That sound was nothing like the Dixieland banjo sound I'd heard all my life. It was simpler, more primitive, and somehow, more emotional.
So I figured I would stick around and see what Earl could do on his banjo. It was going to be different from the Kingston Trio, for sure, but I didn't expect to hear anything much different.

And Earl walked into view playing it. About 3 minutes later, I realized my mouth was hanging wide open in awe and shock. I felt like I had just been hit by a stray thunderbolt.

I can't remember either song they played at all. The only thing I clearly thought was; How is he doing that?

Earl was barely moving at all. Even his hands didn't appear to be moving very much, but this tremendous sound was pouring out, immensely powerful, at blazing speed. I had never heard anything that fast and powerful sounding in my life before then.

And from that moment on, capturing that sound was something I wanted to do more than anything in the world. It was an instant compulsion.
And it has stuck with me ever since. Within 6 months, I had a banjo of my own that never left my side. If I wasn't playing it, I was thinking about playing it, and the banjo changed my life forever.

60 years later, I still have a banjo by my side. It took me to many places I would have never seen, introduced me to many people I would have never known, became my calling card to hundreds of other folks who didn't know me, and has made me a lot of money that I would have never earned without it.

It landed me work in places I would have never walked into, and it even changed my body. I honestly do not know what my life would have become without the banjo.

Nothing in my life has ever changed that fast and completely, before or after those few minutes.

...and I still can't play like Earl. I never could.

Do any of you have your own stories about Earl Scruggs?
regards,
stanger


Yours is a GREAT post and I smiled throughout.  My esteem for Earl ????....My profile name says it all !  

Mar 30, 2022 - 5:50:04 PM
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978 posts since 6/6/2008

As a kid growing up of course I watch Everly hillbillies and saw that the theme was played by Flatt & Scruggs and remember the cameos they did on the show but it never really demonstrated his ability. Then came the theme song they did for petticoat Junction. And at 13 years old I decided I have to learn to do that so I traded in the old drum set I had for my first cheapo five string banjo.
I started mowing yards ($3-$5 per yard) that summer and started spending my money on Flatt & Scruggs records and still have every one of them including an old 78. I kept playing, started taking lessons and remember going up to my grandparents up here in the north Georgia mountains with my folks to visit.
My grandfather and grandmother were just dairy farmers born and raised here didn’t even have electricity until the 1940’s - no running water in the house until the early 50s. And I would sit on the front porch and try to play that banjo and just like every other person that’s learning, it’s really painful for others to listen to. But every time … EVERY time I stopped playing my grandmother would holler from the kitchen “that’n was perty, play anothern”. It still chokes me up every time I think about it. That’s love!
And now here I am in my early 60s, living in their old hundred year old house and still playing my banjo…and still sit on that same front porch when it’s warm enough to play my banjo.

BTW – they used to tell me stories when Flatt & Scruggs came through town and played at the little school house before they were ever big and then when they did get popular they listened to them on the radio. Can you imagine what it was like to hear them on an old AM radio? Wow!

To think a little guy from North Carolina working in a mill could’ve changed the way the banjo was viewed and played across the entire world.

We miss you Earl !

Mar 31, 2022 - 8:55:20 PM
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16 posts since 12/24/2017

Mike, A great post…generating some great replies! Thanks for kicking it off for us.

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Mar 31, 2022 - 9:12:09 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

64306 posts since 10/5/2013

I probably first heard Earl playing the Beverly Hillbillies Theme,, I loved it but hadnt even started playing an instrument yet. My brother had folk-scare albums with banjo, but they sounded lame compared to Earl’s picking. Then later I picked up a remake of F&S Foggy Mountain Jamboree album on a budget label and my hair would stand on end listening. I bought a Framus banjo (there wasn’t much choice of bluegrass instruments or records in my hometown) then and started learning from the bluegrass chapter in Seeger’s book, after attempting some basic frailing/clawhammer from the first couple of chapters. Then Sonny’s book, and finally Earl’s book. I still play everyday and go to festivals and local jams. No life like it.

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