Friday, March 30, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

NASHVILLE—Earl Scruggs’ immortal soul left this city and his beloved Southland and for a few moments I pondered what he meant to me. While I was a student at Emory University, I saw the quiet, soft-spoken man who literally elevated the 5-string banjo to its exalted status as a purely American instrument. Scruggs was a member of The Foggy Mountain Boys and a then unknown Bob Dylan was the opening act. The students loved the music.

Years later in Boston, booked into the Parker House, I turned on the radio to Harvard’s radio station. The program was “Country in Cambridge,” and there was Earl playing one of his signature songs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Scruggs’ bluegrass music and banjo recordings traveled well, earning him a multicultural fan base. I still have the vinyl recording of the Foggy Mountain Boys at Carnegie Hall.

The South’s voice is found in the art forms, particularly our indigenous music. It’s core Americana, a synthesis of Europe and Africa. In Bluegrass, gospel music remains indistinguishable from secular. This is the birthplace of rock and roll, jazz, blues, gospel and yes, bluegrass. Earl Scruggs mastered each form (check out his recordings with his son Randy as “The Earl Scruggs Review”), and earned acclaim, garnering awards including the National Medal of Arts.    

During the Vietnam War, Earl appeared in Washington to perform at anti-war concerts, a very brave act during those turbulent times. Scruggs, usually along with his son, performed throughout the world, taking his music to new generations.

Earl Scruggs with the Byrds and many other rockers, inspiring other musicians including the cerebral comedian, actor, author Steve Martin, who plays Scruggs-style banjo

Johnny Cash, Elvis, Hank Williams, the Eagles, Marshall Tucker Band, Bill Monroe, Gram Parsons, Bella Fleck, the Carter Family are part of Earl Scruggs’ music legacy. I plan to walk the grounds of Emory University to recall that night long ago when the music from Earl Scruggs transformed my life. Strength, I learned, was made of dignity, modesty, immeasurable talent and skill blended with a measure of courage.

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