These remembrances of Earl Scruggs come courtesy of Roland White, who worked for several years as a member of Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass, and later with The Kentucky Colonels (with his brother, Clarence White), Country Gazette and The Nashville Bluegrass Band
Lester told me once that when he and Earl joined Monroe, “the music took off like an unbridled horse. We were off and running.”
I first met Earl and Lester in 1960, backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. I had come out with Leroy McNeese. We drove out to Nashville from California in his El Camino for a DJ convention.
We were in town for a week and a half, and listened to Flatt & Scruggs on the Martha White shows every morning where they announced where they would be, and went off to see them at local shows. They got to recognize us, and Earl invited us over to his house where he gave us an album (can’t recall which), and a picture of them out in front of their bus.
In 1961 I was drafted into the Army, and once when I had a weekend pass, I hitchhiked to Ash Grove in Hollywood to see them perform. When I got down there it was just in time to see their second set, and when I went in to the dressing room after the show, they all laughed because I was in my dress uniform with short hair.
One day in 1967 after I came to Nashville as a Blue Grass Boy, Lamar Grier – who was playing banjo at the time with Bill – said let’s go out and see Earl. He wasn’t traveling with Lester and the band then after suffering an injury, but he could still play. We picked with him all day.
Earl was a big influence on my mandolin playing, believe it or not. When I first heard Dear Old Dixie on the radio, I didn’t know what the heck that was! I called the station and they told me who it was, and I went to the music store in Burbank, CA and ordered the record. I had a couple of Monroe records, but this was the first time Scruggs banjo had caught my ear.
When I got the record I just fell in love with the sound. I went out and bought a Mastertone Gibson in 1955, and a neighbor helped me get started. I studied Earl’s banjo for a couple of years until Billy Ray Lathum came along to play with me and Clarence in The Country Boys.
I ordered all the Flatt & Scruggs records to figure out what he was doing. Clarence and I would just listen and listen, over and over. Clarence would also sit down with banjo from time to time to figure out what Earl was doing. He was a big influence on both of us.
He was so very, very nice… always reached out to shake my hand. He was a wonderful friend, and his musical influence is monumental.
Earl was a real treasure – we’ll never forget him.