George Shuffler: A Career Overview

Born in Valdese, North Carolina, on April 11, 1925, George Saunders Shuffler was a very significant creative force in the bluegrass music world.

Shuffler is best known for his association with the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, and later Ralph Stanley, for popularizing the cross-picking style of guitar playing, and for setting a trend with his walking style of bass playing.

He became absolutely intrigued with the guitar from the age of ten, when he learned his first chords from a friend who worked with his father in the local cotton mill. George and his mother took care of the farming and, at night, he would play until he fell asleep.

His love of music was nurtured in church, where he learned to read shaped notes during church singing schools. That was extended into participation with the Shuffler Family in more formal gospel singing sessions.

Shuffler played and toured with various groups, including a stint on the Grand Ole Opry with the Bailey Brothers (in the mid-1940s), as a member of the rube comic team of Mustard and Gravy, and with the burgeoning duo Jim and Jesse McReynolds. He had two spells with the Melody Mountain Boys (circa 1942 and 1947-1949) also. This last-named band featured his brother John, as well as future Stanley Brothers’ fiddler Lester Woodie.

Around the period 1967 through to 1969 Shuffler played bass with Don Reno and Bill Harrell. They recorded several albums together; three appeared on the King Records label. Other LPs were released by Jalyn and Rural Rhythm.

During the 1970s and 1980s he performed with his family gospel group, the Shuffler Family.

His first involvement with the Stanley Brothers came in December 1951 when Carter Stanley invited Shuffler to participate in a series of radio programs that the brothers had arranged on KVLK. At the time, the station had their office in Lexington although their studio was in Versailles.

During the following April Shuffler participated in the Stanley Brothers last recordings for Columbia Records. He played bass and sang baritone at the session, actually on his 27th birthday, which produced four songs, one of which, A Life of Sorrow, Shuffler helped the brothers to write.

During a 16 year period Shuffler was an intermittent member of the Clinch Mountain Boys; just as often, perhaps even more so, taking time out from music as working with Carter and Ralph.


In addition to that stint in the Lexington-Versailles area, Shuffler was engaged to work with the Stanley Brothers in Pikeville, Kentucky (Radio WLSI), Oak Hill, West Virginia (Radio WOAY), Live Oak, Florida, among many other locations.

While he wasn’t necessarily a member of their band at the time, Carter Stanley more often than not ensured that Shuffler was with them when the Clinch Mountain Boys went into the recording studio. He can be heard on some Mercury tracks, the vast King collection, Wango, and Rimrock.

Shuffler filled in on the recordings for Ralph Stanley’s 1968 gospel album for King, Over the Sunset Hill.

For most of the 1950s he played the upright bass in the band. His driving four-four bass technique has influenced many, including Tom Gray.

In 1961 Curley Lambert, the band’s lead guitar player, left as times got hard and, as a result, the Stanley Brothers could often only afford to work as a threesome. Shuffler introduced cross-picking to provide a fuller sounding guitar style that could keep the rhythm and also play melody. It was at this time that Shuffler came to be affectionately known as the “third Stanley Brother.”

The cross-picking style became part of the signature sound of the Stanley Brothers and subsequently the Ralph Stanley-led Clinch Mountain Boys, with Larry Sparks, Keith Whitley, Ricky Lee, Renfro Proffit, Danny Marshall, Junior Blankenship, Hank Smith and, currently, James Alan Shelton, all following Shuffler’s pattern of guitar playing.

Following Carter Stanley’s death December 1, 1966, Shuffler stayed on with Ralph for a few months to help him to re-establish the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Since the mid-1990s George Shuffler has enjoyed a successful solo career with several albums all showcasing his excellent guitar playing. One of these, The Legacy Continues (Copper Creek CCCD 0182), was with his eminent protégé James Alan Shelton. Another, Mountain Treasure (Copper Creek CCCD 0217), was with his occasional musical partner, Asheville-based Laura Boosinger.

In 1996 Shuffler was awarded the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

He was a 2007 recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award, and in 2011 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Last September (2013) Shuffler was inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

Thankfully, the legendary bluegrass musician lived long enough to enjoy listening to the recent tribute recording, The Boy from Valdese, by Buddy Melton (lead vocals) and Milan Miller (guitar, baritone vocals), Terry Baucom (banjo), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Ron Shuffler (bass) and Carl Jackson (tenor vocals).

George Shuffler passed away on Monday afternoon, April 7, 2014.

You can read all the tributes to George by following this link.

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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.