Earl - 3/29/2012

"I want to learn SONGS," I complained to my banjo instructor, Eric O'Hara. I was twelve years old and impatient. I could find melody notes to simple songs by ear on the banjo, but he insisted I learn the rolls in my Earl Scruggs instructional book. I didn't know much about this Earl Scruggs and wasn't so sure I needed to. I changed my tune when I listened to the Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall record Eric gave me. It changed my life as well. I wish I had a dollar for every time I listened to "Flint Hill Special." His playing and the audience response sent a chill up my spine. I dedicated myself to learning those rolls. I tried to soak everything up about him that I could, the timing, the taste, the tone. Banjo players all try to do that. We all fall short. I don't know another musician whose style has influenced so many. He is the template. He was not the first to put on picks and play in a three-finger style, but I believe he was the first to refine it and make it sound like pure magic. There is nothing tentative about even his earliest recordings. How does a young man pick a direction like that and single-mindedly forge ahead with his own style? I don't believe things like this just happen; I believe it is further evidence of God.

I'll never forget meeting Earl Scruggs in 1995. I acted like a fool falling over myself in the presence of my hero. He was in the lobby of a hotel in Owensboro, KY, just trying to mind his own business. I ran up to him like a blue-tick hound all starry-eyed. I don't know if my tongue was out or not. "I'm going to do something I've always wanted to do my whole life!" Earl took this as a warning and took a step back from the over-eager farm boy. His wife, Louise, took a step forward. "No, I just want to shake your hand," I explained. Real smooth. It was enough for me though. I got to meet Earl Scruggs and shake his hand, the right hand that changed music forever. He left this world last night at the age of 88. I feel thankful that I was able to live in the Age of Earl.