MARCH 29, 2012
Dear Diary – I awoke a bit earlier than usual today because it is my birthday. Not that I look forward to getting older, now that I have significantly fewer Winters in front of me than behind me, but birthdays come only once a year. It’s good to have at least one day each year that belongs to just you. As usual, after I fed the dogs, I made a cup of tea and sat down at the computer to see what was going on within my little world. There it was: Earl Scruggs Dead at 88. I cannot begin to tell you how my heart sunk. Suddenly it was no longer my birthday as something far more important consumed all of my attention. One of the most important people in my life had passed away and, though I knew his passing would occur someday, I was not really ready for that. I searched through a few e-Mails and looked on the Banjo Hangout for some information. I posted how I was going to play my banjo for Earl that day and I asked what tunes others would play for him. Later, as I sat down with my old Granada, I could not decide what to play. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?” Will the Circle be Unbroken?” Nothing seemed as if it fit. Then I just started with Earl’s Breakdown. A couple of hours later, after playing every tune I knew that I had heard Earl play, I sighed deeply and just sat there, looking at the gold, the maple, and the engraving on my banjo. A sense of ease came over me. Diary, only you can understand this, but it was as if Earl himself led me to play these tunes and to reflect on how much I love them and to appreciate what I have. I went to bed with emptiness in my soul, but not one of cold or fear. Rather it was a feeling of accomplishment accompanied with unfulfilled longing for the man I never met except through his music.
MARCH 30, 2010
Dear Diary – I still can’t believe Earl is gone. I spent some time this morning looking at his signature on my old banjo head (one of 14 great banjo players, and Bill Monroe, who autographed it). I think often about Earl’s family and how they must be grieving – especially Gary (who graciously got his Dad to autograph my banjo head for me when Earl was too tuckered out to do it himself). Thoughts such as these continue to dominate my day. I read a very nice article about Earl, written by Steve Martin. I also read some thoughts from Pete Wernick. I’m a bit surprised that I don’t see more posts on various sites regarding Earl. No one answered the question I posted about what will you play for Earl. Maybe that is a good title for a new song? I know that it will take a while for the magazines to get articles out but the internet is immediate. I do see a couple of companies who specialize in banjo, bluegrass, and acoustic items that have a short mention but no real in-depth posts on various banjo sites. I also saw photos of the service and could not hold back the tears when I saw Earl’s old Granada standing quiet and alone above his coffin. To think that his fingers will never again coax sound from her is more than I can bear right now. Perhaps everyone is still in shock…
MAY 2, 2012
Dear Diary – My Banjo Newsletter arrived today and, as I reckoned, it was about Earl, his life, and his music. I’ve been subscribing to BNL for 33 continuous years and I knew my old friend would have a lot to share with me. I was not let down. I spent all day reading – and re-reading – this issue. Normally I will mark up many pages and enter a lot of information on the cover of each issue, but not this one. This issue is different. I was so glad to see that BNL had included several eulogies, as I desperately wanted to hear what the folks said. I did not know that Earl and Louise had a son who died. I cried as I read what some had written; laughed with others. What I already knew was forever driven home more solidly. Earl was not only THE banjo man, but a much better person than I have ever been or probably ever will be. His life, with and without the banjo, is one of example to us all. My life is better not only musically for his existence but also spiritually and as a human being. My heart is on the ground, waiting for another day when it will again soar. When I finally put the issue aside, I just sat there, looking out across the mountains and at the sky and, there on that mountain top, I finally let the tears flow.
POST SCRIPT: Earl is gone; he has walked the spirit path, as my people say. But, more importantly, he was here. And, as I read several times in the May issue of BNL, I am so very fortunate to have shared this world while he was here. I am left with one undying thought. Many people are writing about how much Earl influenced the banjo and bluegrass music. They are not just being polite, as happens upon many folks’ deaths. As many of us do, most players call it Scruggs banjo. But most don’t realize just how much Earl did and what he was to the music and to the instrument. One of the BNL writers came close to stating what will continue to haunt me for years to come: There will never be another Earl. That is an incredible thought! Actors, authors, statesmen, philosophers, artists, inventors – they all come and go and each one is succeeded by another, most often more skilled. Even in music we had the wonder of Mozart but then we had Beethoven. It is really something to not only be the best at what you do but to be the only one who will be remembered for being so. Popular guitar, classical violin, bluegrass mandolin and fiddle – all have their greatest players and will have more. But the banjo will have but one who has no one to succeed him. A century and a half from now, assuming we are still playing music, there will be one name in the banjo history books, and on the minds of banjo players, as the one who introduced us to all of this and who was never successfully emulated or succeeded: Earl Scruggs.
I never met him, or saw him play in-person, but a friend gave me an old banjo years ago, and I bought an Earl Scruggs Banjo Method book. I spent a summer going through that book learning how to do 'rolls' and actually by the end of the summer could play some of the earsier tunes. I bought a banjo, but later needing cash was forced to sell both of them (tough post-college days). At any rate, I still use those 'rolls' in my picking, and you can find YouTube vids of Earl playing acoustic guitar, which shows him using a thumb pick and fingers playing those banjo rolls on guitar too. Yes, there will likely never be another innovator and player in his league. He was a rare talent indeed.
That's a great video. I believe it is part of the series they have been selling the past few years.