I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #98

From October 1, 2010 through to the end of September 2011, we will, each day, celebrate the life of Bill Monroe by sharing information about him and those people who are associated with his life and music career. This information will include births and deaths; recording sessions; single, LP and CD release dates; and other interesting tidbits. Richard F. Thompson is responsible for the research and compilation of this information. We invite readers to share any tidbits, photos or memories you would like us to include.

  • January 6, 1924 Earl Eugene Scruggs was born in Flint Hill, Cleveland County, North Carolina. *
  • January 6, 1983 Recording session – Bill Monroe and John Hartford recorded Old Riverman for the album Bill Monroe and Friends (MCA-5435). Also at the morning session at Burns Station Sound, 211 East College Street, Burns, Tennessee, were Wayne Lewis [guitar], Blake Williams [banjo], Mark Hembree [bass], Kenny Baker [fiddle], Buddy Spicher [fiddle]. Walter Haynes was the producer:
  • January 6, 1996 ‘Chubby’ Wise died, age 80.  **

* Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe in December 1945 and participated in four recording sessions. With Monroe, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts, he was a key player in the ‘classic’ bluegrass band.

His driving, syncopated three-finger banjo- picking style was prominent in defining the foundations of the music and enthralled audiences wherever he played.

Scruggs played breaks on several songs as on Molly and Tenbrooks and Why Did You Wander? and on the tune that was to become a standard for the banjo, Blue Grass Breakdown, as well as singing baritone or bass on some bluegrass Gospel quartets that they had worked up.

During 1946 and 1947 this combination recorded all three of those numbers and 25 more songs creating a style that was to be copied all over the world.

Earl Scruggs was a child prodigy on the banjo and at the age of six he was performing in public. Within four years he had mastered the local style of picking the banjo with a three-fingered roll using picks on the thumb, index and middle fingers. As a teenager he played with the Carolina Wildcats on a Gastonia radio station.

After leaving Monroe early in 1948, Scruggs formed a partnership with Lester Flatt that lasted 20 years and helped to create a vast body of work, much of which is still played in jam sessions all over the world.

Subsequently, he formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons, Gary, Randy and Steve.

A Grammy award winner, Scruggs is a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame (1984); the Country Music Hall of Fame (1985); the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats (1985); and the IBMA Hall of Fame (1991). He was honored with the National Heritage Award in 1989.

Outside of Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and his unique banjo style may be the most pivotal aspect in the development of bluegrass music.

** A member of the Blue Grass Boys in three spells between March 1943 and January 1950, Chubby Wise played the fiddle during all six of Bill Monroe’s sessions for Columbia Records.

Wise began playing fiddle at age 15, working locally in the Jacksonville, Florida, area. He had about five years experience working with the Jubilee Hillbillies prior to joining the Blue Grass Boys. For a period in 1948 and 1949 he played with Clyde Moody, then in the early 1950s he played with the York Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs.

From 1954 through to 1970 he was a member of Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys, although he did do some session work for Mac Wiseman and Red Allen, among others. Thereafter he performed as a solo artist, frequently featuring his showpiece fiddle extravaganza Orange Blossom Special.

Wise returned to Florida in 1984 and went into semi-retirement, though he continued to tour and record occasionally, such as with the Bass Mountain Boys in 1992.

He is a member of the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats (1991) and the IBMA Hall of Fame (1998).

Here’s a video from 1971 of Chubby playing Orange Blossom Special in an all-star jam at Camp Springs.


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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.