This reminiscence comes courtesy of Tom Gray, among the most prominent bass players in the history of bluegrass music. He spent memorable time as a member of both the Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene.
George was my hero, absolutely. His driving bass lines played behind the Stanley Brothers early Mercury recordings made me want to be George Shuffler. That was even before I had a bass fiddle of my own. I would sit on my bed, playing bass runs on my guitar, as close as I could get to what George played on his bass. Once I got my first bass, I could finally try those runs on the real instrument.
John Duffey also recognized George’s power on the bass, and encouraged me to try more of the same walking bass when we were in The Country Gentlemen together. Years later, as part of The Seldom Scene, I think I had finally matured enough to not try to walk the bass all the time.
Ed Ferris (who followed me as bassist with The Country Gentlemen) and I used to go together to see George play with Don Reno and Bill Harrell. We were the George Shuffler Cheering Squad. Whenever George would play something really great, we would yell “Pick it George” together. I think that annoyed Bill Harrell, who was trying to sing.
George was a well-known prankster. If he offered you a piece of gum, you didn’t eat it. It was probably Feen-A-Mint in a Chicklets box. He really pulled a prank that shocked us (The Seldom Scene) while we were on stage at Lake Norman Music Hall, near his home in N.C. I can’t describe his prank here in print. If you want to hear the story, come speak to me in person. Or maybe ask Ben Eldridge. In Ralph Stanley’s book, he talks about some of the pranks pulled by George.
I was honored that, when George was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2011, he chose me and James Allen Shelton to play a tune with him on stage at the Award Show. We were the two pickers who most followed George’s style, on bass and guitar.
Still trying to learn from George…