While Bill Monroe is considered its father, there is no denying the contributions made to bluegrass music by Earl Scruggs. After his first appearance with the Blue Grass Boys on December 8, 1945, he not only began to inspire new and current players, but also changed country music forever. In fact, the three-finger roll which he helped to usher to the forefront of our minds is perhaps the most distinguishing part of a bluegrass band’s sound today.
A twelve song tribute to Earl Scruggs put together by Tim Austin and released on Rounder Records, Foggy Mountain Special is a very special project which celebrates Earl’s recordings, live performances, and life. Featuring twelve different top-notch banjo players all performing tracks penned or arranged by Scruggs, this album is a must have for any banjo enthusiast. The line-up is as follows: David Talbot (Flint Hill Special), Jim Mills (Reuben), Ron Block (Foggy Mountain Special), Charlie Cushman (Randy Lynn Rag), Larry Perkins (Sally Goodin), Ron Stewart (Pike County Breakdown), Tom Adams (Foggy Mountain Rock), J.D. Crowe (Nashville Skyline Rag), Joe Mullins (Earl’s Breakdown), Tony Trischka (Steel Guitar Rag), Kenny Ingram (Ground Speed), and Craig Smith (Foggy Mountain Breakdown).
The backing band for each track isn’t bad either. Adam Steffey on mandolin, Dan Tyminski on guitar and mandolin, Wyatt Rice, Clay Hess and Cody Kilby on guitar, Jason Carter and Ron Stewart on fiddle, Randy Kohrs on resonator guitar, and Dennis Crouch, Barry Bales, and Ben Isaacs on bass round out the mix.
While paying tribute to Earl is the heart of this project, it is really great to hear the different artists give their own interpretations of the tunes. Most of the songs begin in a straight ahead Scruggs fashion, but more and more variations come into play as each musical piece continues. These banjo players are all men who have been heavily influenced by Scruggs – many of whom would have never picked up a banjo if they hadn’t happened upon one of his recordings – and their respect for the man and his music shows through. Interestingly, each banjo player specifically chose which song they put on the album.
The liner notes for the album are another high point for an excellent album. Written by Tom Adams, they not only describe how the project came about, but also share some stories behind the songs themselves. One somewhat humorous story shared by Adams relates how some Flatt and Scruggs tunes are attributed to “Certain and Stacy” – the maiden names of their wives.
This album is a fitting tribute to one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.
For more information on the album, visit Rounder’s website at www.rounder.com.