Earl Scruggs laid a foundation for others to build on, Marty Stuart says
“Hillbilly rock” singer-songwriter Marty Stuart numbers himself among the countless musicians who have been influenced by the music Earl Scruggs made, first with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, then with guitarist Lester Flatt in Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, and then with his own Earl Scruggs Revue.
During our conversation for an appreciation that will appear in Saturday’s Calendar section, Stuart noted how many younger musicians took what Scruggs developed as the bedrock of bluegrass music banjo playing and ran with it.
He pointed to contemporary banjo master Bela Fleck, who has taken the instrument in exotic new directions as a disciple of what came to be known in the 1970s as the “newgrass” movement among progressive-minded players.
“Bela is a great example,” Stuart said. “He took everything Earl Scruggs had done, learned it and respected it, and that’s what I’ve loved about the progressive banjo players. They then took it to a different planet, and Earl was always appreciative of it — he never knocked what they were doing.
“Bela and all those guys, they always deferred to Earl. It’s like when jazz was in danger of being a house divided, with Dizzy Gillespie [and other bebop players] on one side and [jazz pioneer] Louis Armstrong on the other. There was a moment in time when jazz could have split into totally separate hearts instead of remaining a shared vision. What Dizzy did that I always thought was so cool is that he talked about how important Satchmo was.
“Bela reminds me of that. When he steps up to play, he takes it to another planet, but he always goes back and points to the man who showed him the way.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Marty Stuart, left, with banjo master Earl Scruggs at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville in 2004. Credit: Donn Jones / Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum