The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook

We finally got our hands on a copy of the new Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook from Hal Leonard, which will surely have a place on the bookshelf of every serious banjo player or student worldwide. At least all who have an interest in the music of Earl Scruggs, which should be every five stringer alive.

The book carries the extended title, Selected Banjo Tab Accurately Transcribed For Over 80 Tunes, which perfectly describes its contents. Unlike the evergreen Earl Scruggs and the 5 String Banjo, which serves as both an instructional method and a tune book, the Banjo Songbook is chock full of tab, covering 180 of its 187 pages. Produced in an oversized 9” x 12” format, the pages allow for the tab to be displayed in a large enough font to make them easily readable.

Among the 84 pieces transcribed we find music from the width and breadth of Earl’s career, including recordings with Bill Monroe, his long partnership with Lester Flatt, and classic albums on which he appeared after the dissolution of Flatt & Scruggs. The tabs are arranged in alphabetical order, making it a simple thing to find a particular song or tune, and each shows a recorded source still available for purchase.

For any Earl Scruggs fan, it’s a bit like handing a 7 year old some money and ushering them into a candy store. It hard to decide which treats to sample first among the many on offer. Very few of the tabs presented are for material already included in Earl Scruggs and the 5 String Banjo, and between them both you very nearly have every important Scruggs instrumental he performed. For tunes like Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Lonesome Road Blues, both in the earlier book, we get transcriptions for all the banjo solos together in one place.

On several of the vocal numbers, Earl’s distinctive backup licks are also included, as on Six White Horses, I’ll Just Pretend, and I’d Rather Be Alone. Special pleasures include complete transcriptions for novelty numbers like Mama Blues and Polka On A Banjo, crowd favorites during the days when Lester and Earl stood together on stage.

There are ten tunes in drop C tuning, with favorites like Soldier’s Joy, Farewell Blues, and Dig A Hole In The Meadow among them. Interestingly, each piece has a tuning note as much of the Flatt & Scruggs vocal repertoire was recorded with all the instruments tuned up a half step to accommodate Lester’s vocal range. This is quite handy if you want to play along with the CDs, either by retuning or simply placing a capo at the first fret.

The transcriptions were done by a team including Adonai Booth, Pete Billmann, Jeff Jacobson, Ron Piccione, and David Stocker. Help was also provided by Bob Piekel, a long time Scruggs family friend who is listed as an Editorial Consultant.

The tabs themselves are clear and very easy to read, though I might quibble slightly with the use of grace notes to show slides, hammers, and pull offs, when in many cases they are actually thirty-second notes. But it is a minor concern, and anyone familiar with Scruggs style banjo will readily understand their use.

We can recommend The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook unreservedly as a career-wide overview of the great man’s music. It is available for $29.95 from Hal Leonard online, and from retailers everywhere who specialize in acoustic or bluegrass music. Don’t be without a copy.

A complete list of transcriptions follows.

Before I Met You                                       
Big Black Train                                       
Bugle Call Rag                                         
Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Will The Circle Be Unbroken)
Come Back Darling                                     
The Crawdad Song                                       
Daisy May                                             
Dig A Hole In The Meadow                               
Doin’ My Time                                         
Don’t Get Above Your Raising                           
Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down                           
Down The Road                                         
Duelin’ Banjos                                         
Farewell Blues                                         
Fireball Mail                                         
Flop Eared Mule                                       
Foggy Mountain Breakdown   
Foggy Mountain Rock                   
Foggy Mountain Special                 
Get In Line Brother                   
Gotta Travel On                       
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane           
Have You Come To Say Goodbye           
Hear The Whistle Blow, One Hundred Miles
Heavy Traffic Ahead                   
I Ain’t Goin’ To Work Tomorrow         
I Saw The Light                       
I Want To Be Loved (But Only By You)   
I Wonder Where You Are Tonight         
I’d Rather Be Alone                   
I’ll Go Stepping Too                   
I’ll Just Pretend                     
I’ll Never Shed Another Tear           
I’ll Stay Around                       
I’m Goin’ Back To Old Kentucky         
I’m Head Over Heels In Love             
If I Should Wander Back Tonight         
It’s Mighty Dark To Travel               
Jingle Bells                             
John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man   
Just Joshin’                             
Lonesome Road Blues                     
Love And Wealth                         
Love Is Just A Four Letter Word         
Mama Blues                               
Molly And Tenbrooks                     
Mountain Dew                             
My Cabin In Caroline                     
My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains
My Little Girl In Tennessee             
My Long Journey Home                     
My Saro Jane               
Nashville Skyline Rag               
Nine Pound Hammer                   
Nobody’s Business                   
Nothing To It                       
On The Rock Where Moses Stood       
Pain In My Heart                     
Petticoat Junction                   
Pike County Breakdown               
Polka On A Banjo                     
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms         
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town   
Salty Dog Blues                     
Shortenin’ Bread                     
Six White Horses                     
Soldier’s Joy                       
Some Of Shelly’s Blues               
Some Old Day                         
Somebody Touched Me 
Somehow Tonight                         
Standin’ In The Need Of Prayer         
Steel Guitar Rag                       
Till The End Of The World Rolls Around 
‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered             
Toy Heart                               
We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart             
When I Left East Virginia               
When The Angels Carry Me Home           
Why Don’t You Tell Me So               
Will You Be Loving Another Man         
You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.