What Earl Scruggs Heard by Bob Carlin

Lockdown – remember that? – had many distressing effects. However, for some people it presented an opportunity to take on tasks that normal routine might not have permitted otherwise. 

For producer, teacher/performer, and researcher Bob Carlin, the pandemic allowed him to work on some books, the first of which is What Earl Scruggs Heard: String Music Along the North Carolina-South Carolina Border, that tells the story of the music that was a formative influence on the musical development of Earl Scruggs.

Carlin summarises….. 

“All my research is bluegrass/old time/banjo centric and motivated to inform my own music and performances. I had researched and written a number of articles and book chapters on parts of Earl’s embryonic musical story. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to expand upon what I’d already found. The rise of searchable online resources (newspapers.com, ancestry etc) also helped in my further research.”

His findings are related in nine parts, the first of which Carlin defines as Pre-History “B.E.” (or before Earl), and his conclusion headed Post-History “A.E.” (or after Earl).  

Carlin has included a discography, notes, a bibliography, and an index. 

The publisher’s synopsis provides a bit of substance …. 

When the story of banjo superstar Earl Scruggs is told, the rich musical environment that produced him is often ignored. During his lifetime Scruggs spun a creation myth around his playing, convincing many that he was the sole originator of a three-finger, up-picking, banjo style. For the first time, this book tells the full story of the music and musicians of the western Carolinas that influenced Earl Scruggs. Based on more than 15 years of in-depth research, this book includes the story of country music recording pioneers Parker and Woolbright, Fisher Hendley and Martin Melody Boys; rare images of area music makers; and the history and development of fiddlers’ conventions and radio barn dances. Together, these stories are woven into the biographies of Earl’s mentors to reveal the musical atmosphere in which they developed the “three-finger picking” style that so enchanted a young Earl Scruggs.

Charlie Parker and Mack Woolbright- Will, The Weaver 

Recorded Thursday, November 10, 1927, in Atlanta, Georgia (Columbia Records 15694-D)


Publisher: ‎ McFarland Books
Paperback: ‎ 277 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 147668667X
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1476686677
Dimensions: ‎ 15.24 x 1.08 x 22.86 cm

Carlin is the author of several books. His articles have been published in the Journal of Country Music and Bluegrass Unlimited. A New Yorker by birth, he lives now in Lexington, North Carolina.

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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.