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John McEuen Remembers Earl Scruggs

John McEuen and Earl Scruggs
John McEuen, left, with Earl Scruggs in 1972.

The music world is still reeling from the passing of Earl Scruggs, the celebrated banjoist who died Wednesday at the age of 88. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen, who knew Scruggs and performed with him on the album Will The Circle Be Unbroken, had this to say to Elmore about the passing of his friend:

“Earl Scruggs was a leader who demanded nothing of his countless followers, determined to perfect his art, yet unassuming as to his special talent and role as a legend in music. Scruggs was always excited and grateful to meet a new fan. My first encounter, he played Sally Goodin for 5 minutes to me in a 1967 dressing room after a San Francisco show, showing yet another unknown young admirer an easier path his notes.

Prior to that, outside the north windows of the  Grand Ole Opry (Ryman) in 1965, as a teenage Orange County Calif. banjo picker hoping to see country music history only heard on records, I stood on my toes and looked in. While hot southern summer rain hit my head, right then Lester Flatt said on the mic  ‘Earl and I’d like to bring out Mama Maybelle Carter to do the Wildwood Flower.’ I almost passed out from sheer excitement. I hoped to meet him someday. Earl was the reason I was there, and the reason I have a life in music.

Many have followed the Scruggs fingersteps, some taking that banjer (as he called it) to new ground. But, hard as they may try, they don’t really ‘sound’ like Earl… and they know it. It is rare that a player’s name is indelibly attached to an instrument as its description, especially as an integral part to a whole form of music. As for bluegrass, we all know you have to have ‘Scruggs style banjo’.

When Earl responded  ‘I’d be proud to’ to my 1971 question asking if he would record with us (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), the yet to be named Will the Circle Be Unbroken album started taking shape. Earl’s essential input, and that of his wife Louise, gave us the needed credibility to call on some of the icons (Jimmy Martin, Vassar Clements, Junior Huskey, Mama Maybelle, Roy Acuff, Oswald Kirby), all of whom respected him, and who, after the Scruggs’ introduction, came to make that landmark recording with us. We could not have done that without them.

Earl, you were everyone’s friend, and an inspiration of how to look at life to anyone who met you. I am glad I am one of them. Your life’s work will influence and inspire forever, as a rare few have over the years. You made it a better world.”

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