Murphy Henry remembers Louise Scruggs

This post is a contribution from Murphy Henry. Murphy is well know for her instructional method that uses no tab. Be sure to visit her site to learn more about, and purchase, her teaching and instructional materials.

I feel very fortunate to have known Louise Scruggs, even just a little bit. She seemed to me to be an extremely complex woman whose reserved, almost dour, public demeanor masked an incredibly dry wit. And smart! Lord, she was smart. And quick, too. At a long-ago IBMA, I was sitting with Louise and Earl at a table in the restaurant at the Executive Inn in Owensboro one evening. I was somewhat petrified because I didn’t know either of them very well. A man came up and asked Earl to autograph something–was it a license plate? He said he was getting the autographs of all the great banjo players. Louise, sitting right beside me, said to me sotto voce, “You’re a banjo player. Why don’t you give him your autograph?” That was funny on many levels, and I think Louise was aware of all of them. Needless to say, I kept mum.

A few years ago, again at IBMA, I had my picture taken with Louise, which I’m looking at right now in my office. Most people want to get their picture taken with Earl, but I wanted mine with her. Right before Marye Yeomans snapped the shot, Louise said, “Wait.” I wondered why the delay. Again in a low voice she said to me, “I’ve got to hold my stomach in.” Is there a woman on the face of the earth who hasn’t had that same thought? I loved Louise for saying that. I broke into a huge laugh, which is when Marye snapped the shot. Then Louise made me promise not to tell anyone what she said. So, in writing my column for Banjo Newsletter, I didn’t. But now it seems like it’s okay. I think that’s a side of Louise not too many people know about.

When I first talked to Louise on the phone, I was on such a high that I discharged some of my excess energy by scrubbing out my kitchen trashcan. I was pumped! When I told Louise about that, she said drily, “I don’t believe I would mention that.” Meaning mention it in print. So I changed it to polishing my silver. I did not want to get on the bad side of Louise. I always hoped one day to interview her for my book on Women in Bluegrass. I wanted to find out more about her role as Earl’s manager and booking agent, which she sometimes drily referred to as “my hobby.” Guess that won’t happen now. I heard she was writing a book about her life and I hope that is true. The liner notes she wrote to one of Earl’s recent CDs–where she talked about seeing Earl for the first time on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry–were exceedingly well written. I want to know more about her, and I want everyone to know more about her.

I feel sad and a little angry that Louise is not in the IBMA Hall of Honor. She made it onto the ballot almost every year but was never voted in. Why is that? It would have meant so much to her. And more than that, she deserved it. She accomplished so much in the business of music. And sure, she was all about promoting Flatt and Scruggs and then promoting Earl, but in doing so she helped us all. How many people discovered bluegrass through the Beverly Hillbillies and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett?” As I wrote one time, “Her list of accomplishments is almost as long as Earl’s and, like Ginger Rogers, she had to do it backwards and in high heels.”

She was a great woman and I will miss her.

Murphy Henry