To commemorate the passing of legendary and influential banjo stylist (as well as wicked guitar picker) Earl Scruggs this week at age 88, let's play this complete Martha White Flour program from June fourth, 1953. It features one of my favorite Flatt & Scruggs numbers, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" and many other pieces. You can also take a look at this same song performed on one of the episodes of their television show, and more, right after the jump.
I wish I could lay hands on a pithy quote from Mr. Scruggs himself, at this short notice, but I will at least pass along this story from the autobiography of Charlie Louvin of the Louvin Brothers. We join Charlie as he talks about their early pre-fame days on the radio, where they briefly went by the name "The Foggy Mountain Boys" (along with two other fellas):
"The funny thing was, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs came up with the same name later, and when they broke up, they had a lawsuit going about who owned the rights to it. Lester thought it should be Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys, and Earl thought it should be Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. Well, one night, I ran into Lester backstage at a show we were playing together, and I said, "Lester, what in the hell are you boys doing suing each other?"
"Well," Lester said, "Earl claims the name belongs to him because he wrote the 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown'. And I say that I came up with the name before he even wrote that song."
"Shit," I said, "it don't belong to either damn one of you."
He kind of looked at me funny. "What do you mean? Sure it does."
"No, it doesn't," I said. And I showed him an eight-by-ten picture of me, Ira, and the two other guys, and plainly written over it all was the Foggy Mountain Boys.
They never did settle the lawsuit. I think Earl called his band The Earl Scruggs Review, and Lester just used Lester Flatt. They were acting like children. Suing each other over a name. There are too many names out there to sue somebody over one."
And actually, to take a bit of the sting out of that story, I must say I've never read anything else about troubles between Earl and Lester, compared to so many other duos, and especially brother acts, who it seems almost never got on. Apparently most of their career carried on without the fueding found in so many other long-running acts.
Here in Western North Carolina where I live, only a few counties over from Earl Scruggs home, I'll be seeing and hearing a lot of memories about him this week, at this moment I'm listening to what will be most of a day's worth of tribute to Scruggs on our excellent local non-commercial station WNCW, and my pardner who works in a local hospital was surprised during a meeting yesterday to find that the talk turned immediately to Earl's passing on Wednesday. She hadn't realized that he had touched so many people in her emergency room staff. I said, "Well, we live in the right place in the country to find people who know about the good stuff like we do."
I can't say enough about the huge influence of the man, and the duo, on banjo players, pickers in general and songwriters worldwide. If you only know them through their many television show themes, you deserve to explore more of their work, beginning with their stint with Bill Monroe in 1945, where Scruggs developed his innovative "three finger" ("Actually, it's two fingers and a thumb.") five-string banjo technique and on through their many years of fine secular and gospel material as Flatt and Scruggs.
He will be missed.