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Earl Scruggs Family and Friends

Earl Scruggs Family and Friends
A WBZI and Cityfolk.org Production
Dayton, Ohio
April 14,2002

by Derek Halsey

The Earl Scruggs Band featuring;
Earl Scruggs, banjo and guitar.
Gary Scruggs, vocals and bass and all round nice guy.
Glen Duncan, a fantastic fiddler.
Jerry Douglas, Dobro, find me a better one.
Harry Stinson on drums.
John Jorgensen, mandolin and electric guitar.

Banjo legend tribute band;
Tim Stafford on guitar and member of Blue Highway,
Barry Bales on bass and member of Alison Krauss and Union Station,
Ron Stewart on fiddle and member of the Lynn Morris band,
Adam Steffey the stand out mandolin picker of the entire evening,
Terry Eldredge on guitar and a bluegrass singer with a good old sound.

The Banjo players that they backed up;
Joe Mullins, son of fiddler/radio legend, Paul 'Moon' Mullins, member of the band Longview , and owner/operator of old-time music station WBZI, Xenia, Ohio.
Tom Adams, Jimmy Martin and Rhonda Vincent alumnus, Rounder Records artist.
Jim Mills, fired up banjo picker for Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder.
Rob McCoury, fine banjo player from the Del McCoury Band, knows his history, excellent.
J D Crowe, a true legend on the banjo, his 1975 New South album, with Ricky Skaggs, and Tony Rice, and Jerry Douglas on it, is a real classic, and he got his big break with Jimmy Martin in 1956.
Sonny Osborne, Another true banjo legend, member of the infamous Osborne Brothers, and banjo innovator adapting the instrument to country music, played the first electric banjo, and pioneered the 6 string banjo.

On a spring afternoon and evening in Dayton, Ohio the best banjo pickers in the world came together to honor the great Earl Scruggs. The tribute, put together by Dave Barber of Cityfolk.org and Joe Mullins of WBZI Radio, was a once in a lifetime event putting together a group of musicians to play the music of, and to play with, the innovator of the three-finger picking style that changed the banjo forever. In addition to the concert there was a banjo workshop in the afternoon where all of the pickers took turns talking about, and giving tips about, playing the banjo to the people in the audience who showed up from all over the world.

On the afternoon of April 14th the greats of the banjo came upstairs one by one to play and answer the questions of the workshop host, Bill Evans. JD Crowe came up and talked about hearing Earl Scruggs playing on the radio and said that from then on he was hooked on the banjo. He spoke of sitting in the schoolhouse and working his three fingers on his right hand all the time to help him learn that Scruggs style roll. And yes, JD talked of doing what I have heard Doc Watson and many others talk about and that is taking a recording of a tune and slowing it down until you pick up on the notes being played. He then, after learning the notes, would learn how to play it at regular speed. The interesting thing about hearing all of the pickers playing by themselves, one after the other, is that they really did have their own sound and way of playing that was different from each other.

Because of the long time between the banjo workshop at 2 PM and the concert at 7:30 PM there was a lot of time for backstage conversation. I found myself sitting around a table with Sonny Osborne and JD Crowe talking about one thing or another when JD told Sonny that he mentioned him upstairs during his turn in the workshop. Sonny didn't want to believe it thinking JD was goofing with him. But I told Sonny that yes, JD did talk about Sonny's 'country' side of playing the banjo. Sonny then proceeded to grab up JD's banjo and started playing some of those country licks that he is famous for. They challenged each other to remember a song or two, and then Sonny started playing some tunes by an old time guitar picker named Thumbs Carlisle. Now there is a name to look up folks. I just stayed cool and soaked it all in and appreciated how lucky I was on that late April afternoon.

One of the incredible pleasures of being backstage was meeting the man himself, Earl Scruggs. He was gracious and nice and at 78 years old still picks the banjo in fine fashion. The man has not forgotten his chops. Watching him and his great band playing during the soundcheck was a treat. Gary Scruggs was real nice and I was also lucky enough to touch base with Dobro legend Jerry Douglas as well. Jerry is also from Ohio raised up in the town of Warren, his family having migrated there from West Virginia. Another member of Earl's band that night was Glen Duncan. He is a fantastic fiddler. He playing is smooth, yet his riffs are sharp. He was a big part of why this was a special evening.

The evening concert opened up with Sonny Osborne coming out and playing his wonderful rendition of "America The Beautiful". Joe Mullins emceed the night and after Sonny was through playing "America the Beautiful" Joe grabbed the mic, pointed at the American flag hanging behind stage and said, " I couldn't think of any better way to start it off. No matter what, when, where, or how, when you can see this flag hanging, as long as that's waving and somebody's playing the banjer everything's alright, ain't it?" After the 'Banjo Legend Band' played a few excellent tunes Joe Mullins grabbed up the banjer himself and proceeded to get things off to a solid, banjer start.

One at a time the various pickers would take the stage and talk about Earl and then throw down some fine examples of why they were chosen to be there. Tom Adams and Jim Mills were both outstanding. Both of them are younger pickers that can take the instrument to different places. Their feet ain't stuck in the mud. Jim Mills played a re-worked 'John Henry's Blues' and also played the 'Foggy Mountain Chimes'. Rob McCoury came out and played "The Grey Eagle", and "Why Did You Wonder". Rob also stepped up and played "Flint Hill Special". Said Joe Mullins after Rob was through," Wow, Rob. You got to be up on your chops to come out and play the 'Flint Hill' with Earl coming on here in a minute. That's a man's tune ."
Rhonda Vincent came out with her band ,The Rage , and played three fine original tunes. The Rage started out with a new song, "Kentucky Borderline", then went into Rhonda's signature Bill Monroe tribute song, "Is The Grass Any Bluer On The Other Side". They finished strong when The Rage featured their fine banjer picker, Kenny Ingram, on the rocking tune, " Pike County Breakdown". Kenny Ingram is a veteran of the bluegrass world having played with many of the greats. I recently found an old record at a thriftshop called "Lester Flatt Live", from 1974, that featured Kenny on banjo and a 15 year old Marty Stuart on mandolin. Kenny has been away from the business for a while so it was a real treat to see and hear him playing again.

Terry Eldredge came out and played some fine guitar along with his excellent bluegrass singing. With his good old traditional sound he sang "I'm Lonesome All The Time". Tim Stafford stepped up and took the time to introduced JD Crowe as the man that put out the premier, state-of -the -art, classic modern bluegrass album that Tim always knew as "Rounder 44". JD's band at that time in 1975 was called The New South, featuring Ricky Skaggs on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, and Jerry Douglass on Dobro. JD then commenced to playing the first cut on that landmark album, "The Old Home Place". J D also took the time to give tribute to Earl Scruggs saying, " This is a great occasion to honor a man that without him, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be standing here playing this instrument. And I'm sure I can speak for a lot of the others as much as myself. He's the reason why I'm playing this instrument right here, between him and a fella by the name of Jimmy Martin, might have heard of him. We will do one, Train 45." JD plays the 'Train' as good as any picker I have ever heard play it.

To round out the first part of the show Sonny Osborne came out to do his banjo 'thang'. Sonny is a banjo stylist who has a unique sound and who has also broke a lot of ground with the instrument. He talked of growing up in Dayton, Ohio and took the time to talk about how good this band behind him was. And he was right, they were fantastic. Tim Stafford is always a good guitarist and Adam Steffey was simply the best mandolin player, not only of the night, but that I have heard in a long time. Sonny picked a bunch before ending with his, and his brother Bobby's, signature tune, "Rocky Top".

After a 20-minute break it was time for Earl Scruggs and Friends to take the stage. Earl can still, at 78 years of age, pick with the best of them. He showed it on "Earl's Breakdown" picking it with power and grace. What Earl may lack in youthful exuberance he more than makes up for in tone. Earl and his band played "Doin' My Time", written by another musician with an Ohio connection, Jimmy Skinner. "You Ain't Going Nowhere", written by Bob Dylan, was also a stand out. The great Jerry Douglas on Dobro played wonderfully and in doing so the name of Josh Graves was mentioned more than once. Knowing of Jerry's feelings toward Josh, the Dobro legend from that Flatt and Scruggs band of old, there was no doubt that Jerry's playing was dedicated to him, especially in his playing of "Foggy Mountain Rock". John Jorgensen, guitarist for Elton John's band, threw down some hard electric guitar picking as well as playing on the mandolin. Drumming for the Scruggs band that night was Harry Stinson, head of Dead Reckoning Records. Joe White played guitar and sang and Gary Scruggs, as always, played bass, sang, and led the band behind his father.

Earl also played his guitar for a couple of songs, including "You Are My Flower", and sang four-part harmony on the song "Precious Memories". Earl pleased the crowd by playing all of the old favorites that he is associated with, from "The Ballad Of Jed Clampett" to "Salty Dog" to "Foggy Mountain Special". The latter song was what was played when all of the other banjo players came out for the encore to pick with Earl. It was a great night for bluegrass, it was a great night for the banjo, and it was a great night for American music.

At 78 years old Earl has outlived many of the old pickers that he played with and knew from back in the day. I cannot tell you what a privilege it was to shake the hand of a true innovator. Those hands picked up a banjo way back in the last century, in the 1930's in Flint Hill, North Carolina, and Earl used them to teach himself to play the banjo. On top of that he pursued a particular sound that, for whatever reason, sounded right to him. The end result of Earl's young mind combined with those three fingers of his was to develop a way of playing an instrument that would revolutionize American music. This concert was not one that will travel to any other city in the world. It really was a once in a lifetime get together. It was an historic event attended by folks from Japan to Texas. Said Satoshi Yoshida a few days later,

" I came back to Japan last night. But I can' t sleep since that great time. Was that dream???"

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