Banjo player “Shorty” Eager passes

Edward William “Shorty” Eager passed away following an extended illness on December 19, 2011, at Cobb Wellstar Hospital in Austell, Georgia.

A former member of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, Eager was born on February 13, 1941. Originally from Mohnton, Pennsylvania, he moved to Georgia, initially in 1980, and was a well-known and very talented musician with his own unique style of banjo picking.

He began playing music at the age of five years old and played with many well-known musicians such as IBMA Hall of Fame member Jimmy Martin and former Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Bailey.

Eager replaced J.D. Crowe in the Sunny Mountain Boys, performing alongside IBMA Hall of Fame member Paul Williams and Zeb Collins. He appeared with the group on WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree.

Shorty also worked with Tennessee Bob and the Dixieliners in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on WSAN in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He then went on to form several bands of his own, such as The Log Cabin Boys; Shorty Eager and the Eager Beavers; and, eventually, Elaine and Shorty, The Grass Kats.

Eager is said to have influenced Balsam Range Marc Pruett’s banjo playing style.

Shorty and his wife, Elaine, were also inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Honor in 2007.

In a 2006 interview, he said that many of his early musical experiences were gained from his siblings, but they led him to the now historic country music concert venue in Sunset Park, Pennsylvania.

“They had a show every Sunday. I saw the Osbornes, Reno and Smiley, the Louvin Brothers, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Ola Belle Reed and Alex Campbell – they were the home band. That’s been a long time ago now. I remember getting out in the parking lot and picking with Del McCoury and Jack Cooke.”

It was at Sunset Park one day that he met Jimmy Martin and was invited to join his Sunny Mountain Boys.

He also performed with Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Bailey, Tennessee Bob and the Dixieliners in Kutztown, PN on WSAN in Allentown.

Eager led several bands throughout his musical career; one of those, the Log Cabin Boys he took from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, where he performed for four years at Teddy Sutton’s Old Country Store in Maggie Valley.

He also formed Shorty Eager and the Eager Beavers, and Elaine, his guitar-playing wife, and Shorty had The Grasskats, based in Atlanta, Georgia. The duo made two albums during their career together – Sandbox 1 and Sandbox 2 – and was a mainstay on the southern festival circuit.

Shorty and Elaine Eager were inducted in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Honor in 2007. Also, the couple was also among the original founders of the South Eastern Bluegrass Association (SEBA), formed in 1984.

Eager also worked as a heavy equipment operator for many years. He loved to fish, hunt and play music with his children and his wife and special friends. He is said to have never met a stranger, and no one ever forgot Shorty Eager.

His love for stray animals with no known home was unique and they loved him, they would always become part of the family, even going to work with him.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.