Earl Scruggs milestones
Jan 6, 1924: Earl Eugene Scruggs is born in Shelby, N.C.
1928: Father George Elam Scruggs, a farmer, bookkeeper and musician, dies following an eight-month illness. Earl begins playing his banjo later that year, practicing in a two-finger style and using instruments belonging to his older brother and his father.
1934: Begins developing a three-finger style that would become known as “Scruggs-style” banjo and would also become a central element in bluegrass music.
1935: Purchases a banjo from the Montgomery-Ward mail order company.
1945: Begins playing banjo with “Lost John” Miller and His Allied Kentuckians, which performed in Knoxville and Nashville.
Dec. 8, 1945: Makes first appearance with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, a group that already featured Monroe on mandolin, Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howart Watts (known professionally as “Cedric Rainwater”) on bass. This group would become the prototypical bluegrass ensemble and is often referred to as “The Original Bluegrass Band.”
Sept. 16, 1946: First records with Bill Monroe, adding jazzy banjo to “Heavy Traffic Ahead.”
Dec. 14, 1946: Louise Certain attends the Grand Ole Opry and meets Scruggs after the show. The two began dating.
Early 1948: Departs the Blue Grass Boys, along with Flatt. Monroe would not speak to either man for 23 years.
March 1948: Flatt & Scruggs begin working on WDVA in Danville, Va., with a band that included Jim Eanes on guitar, Cedric Rainwater on bass and Jim Shumate on fiddle. Eanes soon departed, and his place was taken by Mac Wiseman, who helped them find a job at WCYB in the Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol.
April 18, 1948: Earl Scruggs and Certain marry.
Fall 1948: First Flatt & Scruggs recording session for Mercury Records. The session yielded four songs: “God Loves His Children,” “I’m Going To Make Heaven My Home,” “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” and “My Cabin In Caroline.”
March 1949: Wiseman leaves the band and is replaced by mandolin player Curly Seckler.
Nov. 21, 1950: Flatt & Scruggs begin recording for Columbia Records.
Oct. 24, 1951: A Nashville recording session yields “Earl’s Breakdown,” in which Scruggs introduces his technique of adjusting his banjo strings’ tuning in the middle of a song. Reception to this song led Scruggs to create a mechanism for raising and lowering his strings’ pitch without adjusting the tuning pegs.
June 1953: Earl and Louise Scruggs move to Nashville and begin playing a morning radio program on WSM.
1955: Despite opposition from Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs join the Grand Ole Opry. They also begin playing a series of television programs that demand 2,500 miles of travel each week. Louise Scruggs begins managing and booking the band, thus becoming Nashville’s first female manager and booker. She remained a guiding presence in her husband’s career until her death in 2006. The year also brought the addition of Buck “Uncle Josh” Graves on the Dobro — a significant departure from Monroe’s notion of proper bluegrass, which featured only mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass and banjo.
October 1955: Earl and Louise Scruggs were involved in a serious automobile accident that kept Scruggs from touring for several months.
Mid 1958: Seckler leaves the band.
July 1959: Plays the Newport Folk Festival, accompanied by Hylo Brown rather than by Flatt. The appearance opened folk music fans’ eyes and ears to the possibilities of the banjo and helped secure a spot for Flatt & Scruggs in the 1960s folk boom.
1960: Flatt & Scruggs include drums for the first time in a recording session. And during a rehearsal break for CBS’ Folk Sound USA program, Scruggs plays informally with sax player King Curtis. “It was then that Earl realized the banjo worked well with many forms of music,” Louise Scruggs would later write in liner notes to a Scruggs album.
1961: Flatt & Scruggs begin playing college and university folk shows.
1962: Flatt & Scruggs record a live album at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme for CBS show The Beverly Hillbillies, is issued on Columbia. The single would become Flatt & Scruggs’ only No. 1 country single and the first bluegrass recording to top country charts.
1963: Louise Scruggs spearheads a live recording at Vanderbilt University, where a school official had told her that Grand Ole Opry-style music wasn’t welcome.
1964: The group records with the addition of Charlie McCoy’s harmonica, a further deviation from Monroe’s classic bluegrass sound.
1967: Columbia brass assign Bob Johnston, known for producing Bob Dylan’s material, to produce Flatt & Scruggs.
1968: The Nashville Airplane album, which features a clearly disinterested Flatt singing Dylan lyrics such as “everybody must get stoned,” is released. It was Flatt & Scruggs’ final studio effort.
1969: Flatt & Scruggs split up early in the same year they were awarded their first Grammy, for the recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” used in the feature film Bonnie and Clyde. In late 1969, Scruggs played the Grand Ole Opry with sons Gary and Randy in the debut performance of the eclectic, genre-bounding group The Earl Scruggs Revue. Son Steve later joined the group. “When the boys came into the group, that’s when I first started realizing real progress, for the first time in years,” he would say in 2007.
1970: Stars in the National Public Television show Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends with Gary and Randy Scruggs, Doc Watson, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others.
1972: Scruggs and the Revue (sons Gary, Randy and Steve and fiddler Vassar Clements, pianist Bob Wilson and drummer Jody Maphis) release I Saw The Light With A Little Help From My Friends, with guests including Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The cross-generational musical mix of Scruggs’ recordings and live performances in this time period would be of great influence to The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s guest-star packed Will The Circle Be Unbroken series, and Dirt Band members credit Earl and Louise Scruggs with providing inspiration and helping recruit personnel for the Circle projects. Earl Scruggs would perform on each of the Dirt Band’s three Circle albums.
1982: The Storyteller and the Banjo Man, a duo project with Tom T. Hall, is released.
1985: Flatt & Scruggs are elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
1992: Steve Scruggs dies, and a grieving Earl Scruggs ceases playing music for eight months. Back problems would keep him from heavy touring in the ensuing years.
1996: Suffers a near-fatal heart attack during hip surgery.
2001: Releases Earl Scruggs and Friends, a collection of collaborations with Elton John, Sting, Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Cash, Steve Martin and other admirers. The album’s version of Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” won a Grammy.
Feb. 13, 2003: Gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
2004: Performs a multishow residency at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
2005: Plays the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
2006: Louise Scruggs dies at age 78. A memorial service is held at the Ryman Auditorium, where the couple met.
2007: Flatt & Scruggs are elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
2008: Receives a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rounder Records releases Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends: The Ultimate Collection Live At The Ryman.
Sept. 15, 2010: Is hospitalized in Chapel Hill, N.C., after requiring medical attention prior to a concert.
March 28, 2012: Earl Scruggs dies in Nashville at age 88.
2012: Projected opening of the Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South in Shelby, N.C.