This report on bluegrass icon George Shuffler is a contribution from Richard Thompson and James Alan Shelton.
Crosspicking bluegrass guitar pioneer George Shuffler is to be inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame on Saturday, September 21, 2013, at a ceremony during the 39th Annual Bill Monroe Hall of Fame & Uncle Pen Days Festival, at Bean Blossom, Indiana.
Shuffler, who was born in Valdese, North Carolina, on April 11, 1925, is an early practitioner of the cross-picking style of guitar playing.
Although the style was first devised by Bill Napier, previously the Stanley Brothers’ mandolin player, who played lead guitar on some King Records recordings following a suggestion by Syd Nathan, the owner of the label, Shuffler’s name seems to be the one most associated with the style.
Shuffler began playing the cross-picked lead guitar for the Stanley Brothers when he returned to the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1960. His first recorded songs on this instrument were on the Stanley’s In Person album (King 719) where he shared guitar duties with another Stanley sideman, Curley Lambert. Among the songs that featured George’s guitar work on this record were Wildwood Flower and Finger Poppin’ Time.
During the next five years Shuffler would continue to play lead guitar on many Stanley records. One album in particular, Good Old Camp Meeting Songs (King 805) shows the Shuffler cross-picking style in full bloom. One of his most notable guitar solos is the cross-picked introduction to Carter Stanley’s Harbor Of Love. Other songs that featured George’s guitar work of the period include Will You Miss Me, Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine, I See Through You, Who Will Sing For Me, Stone Walls And Steel Bars, Pretty Little Miss In The Garden, Where We’ll Never Grow Old, Leaning On The Everlasting Arms, Drinking From The Fountain, Don’t Cheat In Our Home Town and the novelty numbers Still Trying To Get To Little Rock and Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me.
The style is ideal when playing on hymns or slower trio numbers where there is space between the singing lines. The cross-picking roll accomplishes this very nicely, without being obtrusive or taking anything away from the singing. It can also be effective if played softly behind the singing of a certain type of song, rather than as filler between the lines.
Shuffler has been an influence on almost all guitar player of note including Clarence White, Tony Rice, Charles Sawtelle, Steve Kaufman and Eric Thompson.
Also he has influenced the Clinch Mountain Boys lead guitarists who followed him including Larry Sparks, Keith Whitley, Ricky Lee, Renfro Proffit, Danny Marshall, Junior Blankenship, Hank Smith and James Alan Shelton.
Shuffler played with The Bailey Brothers early in his career, appearing on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 17.
In the past 15 years Shuffler has recorded for Freeland Records and Copper Creek Records.
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.
Here is a video excerpt from Clinch Mountain Guitar, an instructional DVD from James Alan Shelton, in which he interviews Shuffler about the origins of his style.
These two collections cover all of the Shuffler guitar work that was done for the King label; The Stanley Brothers- The Early Starday King Years 1958-1961 (KBSCD-7000) and The Stanley Brothers – The King Years 1961-1965 (KG-0950-2).
- Cross Picking (Freeland FRC-CD 657, 1998)
- Aged to Perfection (Copper Creek CCCD 0172, 2000)
- The Legacy Continues (with James Alan Shelton) (Copper Creek CCCD 0182, 2000)
- Mountain Treasures (with Laura Boosinger) (Copper Creek CCCD 0217, 2003)