Having a Coffee with ……………. Jeff Scroggins

This is fun series in which we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so famous, about some of their interests as well as about the music that they love.  

Earlier I met up with Jeff Scroggins, the leader and banjo player for Jeff Scroggins & Colorado.

With his grandfather, J.M. Cary, an old-time country music performer with whom he grew up “on an old school dairy farm” in rural Dibble, Oklahoma; and his great uncle, Ace Sewell, an Oklahoma fiddle legend, music was a very important part of Jeff Scroggins’ life from an early age.  

At the age of 12 his grandfather gave him his first guitar and taught him how to play. During his teenage years he played electric guitar in garage bands, and then when 19, he bought a banjo at a garage sale for $60. Soon he was obsessed with the banjo and traded in his Les Paul guitar for a better banjo. 

Scroggins spent the best part of a decade honing his banjo playing skills, his progress being enhanced by his learning from banjo legend and fellow Oklahoman, Alan Munde, and, then later, after relocating to Dallas, Texas, from James McKinney.    

He won numerous banjo contests during this time, culminating, in September 1989, in the winning of the prestigious National Bluegrass Banjo Championship in Winfield, Kansas.

During the following year Scroggins was a co-founder of the Andy Owens Project, playing on the band’s debut CD Kerosene Circuit (Real Records RRC 2001).  

The band recorded two more critically acclaimed CDs, Real Music (1993) and One Eye Open (1996) and performed throughout the early and mid-1990s, touring Russia in 1994. Then in 1996 he spent three weeks on tour in Japan with Owens and with three-time National Flat-pick Guitar Champion Steve Kaufman. 

While spending more than 10 years helping to raise a young family, Scroggins performed in a few local and regional bands; the Wichita, Kansas-based Big Twang; and the Colorado-based Blue Canyon Boys; this band won the Telluride band contest in 2008. 

That same year Scroggins recorded his first CD, Five Strings, Four Corners, which featured his then 13-year-old son Tristan, who at that time was emerging as an excellent mandolin player. 

In 2009 Jeff and Tristan Scroggins relocated to the Front Range region of Colorado, and two years later Scroggins formed Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, started so that dad could play with son on a regular basis. 

The band has released four albums; Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (No label, released in 2010), Western Branches (No label, produced by Sally Van Meter, released in 2013), Ramblin Feels Good (No label, produced by Bil VornDick, 2016) and the most recent Over the Line (released last month, January 2019, on the Patuxent Music label). 

Scroggins is passionate about food and cooking and living a healthy lifestyle, based in part on healthy eating habits formulated from the lessons learned while tending animals on his grandfather’s farm.  

Scroggins was inducted into the Texas Tornadoes, an unofficial Texas music Hall of Fame in 1996.  

What would you like to drink? 

French roast coffee or an espresso, please.

Do you want anything to eat as well? 

I’d love some eggs and bacon, or perhaps some full fat Greek yogurt with a little honey, some blackberries and some hemp seeds.

What’s your favorite food? 

Ribeye steak or prime rib, rare.

And what would you have to drink with that? 

Bordeaux or water.

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had? 

I’m not sure I could pick one, but a memorable one was the tartiflette that I had in Annecy in the French Alps two summers ago (also escargots and fondue in the same location). Another more recent one would be roasted pork knuckle with red cabbage and potato salad and some amazing Bavarian beer at a biergarten in Munich on our recent European tour. 

Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music? 

Beverly Hillbillies or Andy Griffith Show were probably the first places; the first time I heard it live would have been somewhere in the Ozarks on an early family vacation. I was probably about 12 at that time. I remember it clearly, as every time I heard it when I was young it had a profound effect upon me; it was and remains such an exciting sound to me.

Which of your own songs do you have a particular liking for? 

If you are talking my original tunes and would say Jalapeno Flashback, partially because it was the first original tune that I recorded and that got some attention, but it would probably be my favorite of my original tunes, even if I was the only one that had ever heard it. More recently I really like Dismal Nitch from our last CD, Ramblin Feels Good and Zig Zag from our most recently released CD, Over the Line. 

What about a song written by someone else? 

It literally changes from day to day, but if we are talking all styles it would be a Gordon Lightfoot song like, Go My Way, or some early Led Zeppelin. If we’re talking bluegrass it would still be impossible to choose one, but since that was what you asked, I’ll say You Don’t Know My Mind by Jimmy Martin or Follow the Leader or anything by Don Reno. 

Which particular album do you like best and why? 

The New Grass Revival Live in France is a favorite, because it reminds me of the exciting times when I was first hearing all of this music. Also, Church Street Blues by Tony Rice, which is one of the few albums that I literally just wore out and had to replace. Manzanita would be in the running for that because again, it reminds me of then this stuff was all so new and exciting to me. Rounder 0044 and the first couple of Bluegrass Album Band releases would make the short list too.

What’s your favorite bluegrass project of all time and why? 

Manzanita by Tony Rice is an all-time favorite; I think that Bela Fleck’s Drive is my favourite banjo album of all time.

You play a banjo …. … What model is it? 

A 1987 Stelling Virginian. I also recently acquired a Grundy Banjo, made by Laurie Grundy in Beechworth, Victoria, Australia, that I really love.

What’s your favorite bluegrass memory? 

Wow, also impossible to limit to one, but a few would be;

  • Winning the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship in 1989
  • Tristan winning the IBMA Momentum Award
  • Headlining the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France in 2016
  • International touring and seeing so much of the world

Touring and performing in Ireland, especially the 2016 tour with Mark Schatz (fun guy to travel with, as he, like me really enjoys taking the time to meet the people and see the sights), getting to perform and record with so many amazing people, including so many of my musical heroes through the years. 

How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road? 

Eating well on the road is so important; you cannot be an internationally touring musician if you are sick and have health issues, so taking care of yourself is absolutely not optional. It has been a challenge to get on top of that, but I have lost and continue to keep off 80 lbs in the past few years. I eat a version of the paleo diets that are popular these days, modified to fit and work for me. I eat very little processed foods (no bread, pasta, etc, almost no sugar, etc). I eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of meats, eggs, cheeses, and butter, nuts, and oils. When I am at home I go to the gym most days and do cardio and weight lifting; when I am on the road I look for gyms and the opportunities to lift weights. When I cannot get to the gym, I follow a workout routine designed for hotel rooms. I also try to walk at least five miles per day, both at home and on the road. It takes discipline to stick to the healthy eating and exercise on the road, but I feel like I have gotten on top of it. On our most recent month-long tour of Europe (where I would typically have gained 20 lbs) I actually lost weight; I allowed myself occasional indulgences, because you would be crazy to be in Europe and not eat some of the amazing food there, but for the most part I stuck to it. I must say that by comparison it is easier to eat well in almost any modern country than it is in the US; I wish that we took healthful food more seriously.  

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow? 

None; I gave up watching sports when I got into music, as I was a total fanatic and spent many hours a week watching. Eventually as I got more serious about music, I figured that spending all of those hours practicing instead of passively watching was a better use of time. When I was young, I loved football and basketball, but I haven’t followed either at all in more than 30 years. My fiancé is involved in martial arts and is a world champion at MMA (a cage fighter), and has a son that now competes and so I have recently allowed myself to watch UFC fights with them. Those are the only sporting events that I watch at this point.

What hobbies do you have? 

I really love to cook; I especially enjoy French and Italian cooking, as well as cooking the New Mexico cuisine that I picked up while living there. There are lots of things that I used to cook that I have had to quit cooking because of my dietary restrictions, and others to which I have had to make serious modifications to make them work for me, but cooking is still my number one hobby after music. I also love to read, but I am so busy that I rarely have the time, but when I do I like to read mostly non-fiction, philosophy, anthropology, and other social sciences; self-help books are favorites. 

What is the last movie film that you watched? 

The Red Violin

Do you get much time to watch TV? 

No, I don’t have a lot of time to watch, but when I do watch it is on Netflix. I love comedy shows, especially stand-up comedy. I really like The Family Guy. I have recently watched Ozark and Breaking Bad with my fiancé, and we also watched every episode of Friends, but mostly I watch movies.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music? 

I am not sure that I really know, but it would probably be something with food and cooking, or I could also see myself being an Anthropology or Philosophy professor, or a self-sustaining, “back to the land” organic farming hippy. My favorite non-musician job that I have had was surveyor/civil engineering technician, so I suppose that could be a viable option as well.

Jeff Scroggins lives in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. 

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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.