In 1972, deep in the generational culture wars, Will the Circle Be Unbroken was released as a 3 LP set. A that time I was a budding 14 year old banjo player. It was refreshing to hear the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fusing their hippie sensibility with the mastery of more mature musicians like Earl Scruggs and Vassar Clements. It opened up a world of possibilities I hadn’t heard before.
To this day their take on Soldier’s Joy remains my favorite banjo song to play or listen to. IMHO all other versions pale in comparison.
Scruggs was both a master craftsman and a transformational musical innovator, a very rare combination. Bluegrass simply wouldn’t be what it is without him. Be like Earl and goodness will ensue.
I chose to play folk Clawhammer banjo, the older style that Scrugg’s bluegrass picking supplanted. But I absorbed every lick and kick that he put into his music.
As this video attests – Scruggs was musician and human being first. He worked with anyone whose music he respected, regardless of style or politics. We need more of that spirit not less – he will be missed.
*Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Earl Scruggs with Glen Duncan, Randy Scruggs, Steve Martin, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Gary Scruggs, Albert Lee, Paul Shaffer, Jerry Douglas, and Leon Russell.