"I just don't know what the limit is!" - Earl Scruggs
January 28, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

In 1969 banjo virtuoso and bluegrass innovator Earl Scruggs parted ways with his longtime musical partner Lester Flatt and the band they led to great popularity and acclaim, The Foggy Mountain Boys. Scruggs wanted to push his musical gifts as far as they could go. In 1970 he was the subject of a PBS documentary where he played with artists such as Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, The Morris Brothers, The Byrds, Charlie Daniels, Bill Monroe, Joan Baez, various friends and family members, and even records a track accompanying a Moog. You can watch the whole thing online: Earl Scruggs, His Family and Friends.
posted by Kattullus (17 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man, I was worried this was going to be another obit post.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:41 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I considered starting the post by saying 'Earl Scruggs is alive and well.'
posted by Kattullus at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2011


Fantastic to see the whole of this out there. I've had to piece the various bits of it together from youtube for years now. Thanks!
posted by Ahab at 8:10 AM on January 28, 2011


The Foggy Mountain Boys--Now I get the naming of The Soggy Bottom Boys.. I'm a quick one.
posted by hanoixan at 8:15 AM on January 28, 2011


Earl Scruggs is a national treasure, and it took a lot of intellectual and artistic bravery to sit down with dylan and the like and learn as well as teach.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2011


I love Flatt & Scruggs! Those guys could jam! My introduction to them was via Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid. Nowadays I can listen to Flatt & Scruggs radio on last.fm.
posted by Xoebe at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2011


These collaborations are mostly your typical 70s hippie-country mess. When you compare the lean, crystaline perfection achieved by Flatt & Scruggs -- grown men who knew how to wear a hat -- with the raggedy uncertainty of these puppies, well, pshaw, that's all I gotta say. Flatt & Scruggs were sheer, square perfection.
posted by Faze at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2011


Now I get the naming of The Soggy Bottom Boys.. I'm a quick one.

Well, there is also the fact that they had just been baptized by immersion, so they actually had soggy bottoms...much to Ulysses' amusement.
posted by Billiken at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2011


Faze: These collaborations are mostly your typical 70s hippie-country mess.

I've got two favorite bits in the movie, when he's playing with The Morris Brothers early on, but equally good, if not better, is when he's playing with Joan Baez, at the very end. Here's Love Is Just a Four-letter Word, though my favorite is their take on I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.
posted by Kattullus at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faze: "These collaborations are mostly your typical 70s hippie-country mess. When you compare the lean, crystaline perfection achieved by Flatt & Scruggs -- grown men who knew how to wear a hat -- with the raggedy uncertainty of these puppies, well, pshaw, that's all I gotta say. Flatt & Scruggs were sheer, square perfection"

May the spirit of John Hartford seize you.
posted by notsnot at 9:00 AM on January 28, 2011


Here's Earl playing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" on Letterman with Steve Martin, Albert Lee and Vince Gill
posted by wabbittwax at 9:44 AM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


My Father was a huge fan of Flatt and Scruggs, and I grew up listening to their records. I remember watching this when I was a kid, and I'm glad for the opportunity to see it again. Thanks.

Also: my brother and I once made metro fare to get back to the apartment we were staying in in Paris by singing "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms" at the Porte de la Villette station; so, thanks for that, Earl.
posted by steambadger at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


It can't be just me and Ned Beatty that both love and hate Dueling Banjos. Or banjos.

In 1983 I swallowed my 19 year old pride and pried $200 from my stingy dad to go to Alaska, or Go To Alaska. I was living in Seattle and my friend Bob from Buffalo had been there the year before working salmon and I'm pretty suggestible then as now so when Bob asked I went.
We hitched a ride with Bob's sort of friend Rich. Housing is scarce there in Alaska in the salmon time. Rich was going to live in his van and save money. Rich was grumpy but that was exceeded by his stupidity. His van had a waterbed, wait, I know what you are thinking but that isn't the point. He filled his waterbed in Kelso WA and we *drove* 4000 pounds of water to Petersburg AK, where it rains 138 inches a year (Seattle by comparison receives 38 inches a year).
Driving from Victoria to Prince Rupert in the night with the van heeling from side to side as the water sloshed from side to side is a unique terror that I'll never forget. But to the Banjo.
I had, by request, received a banjo for Christmas 4 years earlier. It was a beauty, $300 in 1979. Pity it wasn't a magic banjo because it would have taken magic to overcome my painful lack of ability. My friend Bob from Buffalo also had a banjo and he was having better success but we were both terrible. He brought it along on our trip to Alaska.

It's a 2 day wait for the ferry if you get to Prince Rupert at exactly the wrong time as we did. There was consolation in O'Keefes Extra Old Stock (and in being suddenly of drinking age by virtue or having crossed a border) and the peeler bars too though those are a kind of Disney: fun for the first day or two but then not so much.
Waiting for the ferry a sort of camp assembles. It is melancholy but exciting too. There are the usual scents and the usual equipment and the usual camaraderie. I like those places.

But then: A neighbor who had a guitar and could play saw me, from inside his tent, fecklessly plinking on Bob's banjo. So of course comes the opening strains of Dueling Banjos. I don't think words can recapture the shame as I tried. This was the moment I was living for when I asked for a banjo for Christmas. It would be an understatement to say I failed. It was so bad, so terrible. I tried for a few notes and crumpled up and left in withered shame.

I still love Bluegrass, I hope whoever got that banjo we donated has more luck or ability than I.
posted by vapidave at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of many great banjo clips out there featuring Earl (and in this one, also a lesser-known white-haired comic).
posted by Mike D at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2011


Sorry, Wabbitwax got there first. Apologies for the repeat.
posted by Mike D at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2011


Great timing (for me, at least) on this post. I've just been working my way through recording a stack of old vinyl LPs that I've picked up at one time or another onto my computer, and just recorded the soundtrack album this film. Lots of good music, but I was particularly amused by the duet between Earl and the Moog synthesizer -- especially because I hadn't paid close attention to the track listings, and wasn't expecting synth notes to pop up in the middle of all those banjos!
posted by djwudi at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2011


There was a time when I usta think bluegrass was okay, in a sort of hokey way.

Then I went to a down-south World's Fair and walked up to a gang of a half-dozen players who were probably all fourth or fifth generation. DAMN! I dragged myself away after 45 minutes or so, with my evalu-ometer raised from about 4 to 9. If you ever get a chance to plug into the real thing, I highly recommend.
posted by Twang at 9:26 PM on January 28, 2011


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