We visit the Centre in Shelby NC
Earl Scruggs Centre
Shelby North Carolina September 19, 2019
GrassRoots Music Tour
Images: Jim Jacob
Words: Rob Dickens
Located in a stately, former courthouse centred in a serene square in the heart of downtown Shelby, North Carolina, the Earl Scruggs Centre opened in 2014.
Earl Scruggs was born and grew up near Shelby in Cleveland County. Located in the Piedmont section of the state, it is an area known for its strongholds of banjo enthusiasm. He grew up in a musical family, with every member proficient in some instrument. He took up the banjo early and, at the age of 10, something happened that would change the course of banjo playing, and in fact traditional music, irrevocably.
Reacting after an argument with his brother, he got lost in his instrument and somehow transitioned from the normal two-finger picking style to finding a place for his third finger in the quick rhythm pattern. Excitedly he ran and told his family “I’ve got it. I’ve got it!”
He worked further on this original three-finger style and by time he turned 15, he was playing regularly with a band. When 21, he and guitarist Lester Flatt were in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys with considerable success including a performance at The Grand Ole Opry (where Scruggs met his future wife and manager of the band, Louise). By 1948, Scruggs had had enough of Monroe’s punishing tour schedule and the small living as a member of that outfit.
The partnership of Flatt and Scruggs was born and, despite struggling for recognition for a while, they became extremely successful with their band The Foggy Mountain Boys, embracing television and other ways to promote their music. Scrugg’s instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was just one lasting hit. In 1962, the duo recorded “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies which became a break-out country hit.
By the late 60’s, Scruggs became frustrated with the fact that Flatt refused to sing new material because the latter was concerned about the backlash from traditional bluegrass fans. So they parted ways.
Scruggs branched out further forming the Earl Scruggs Revue with an electric-powered rock sound with his sons.
Scruggs received four Grammy awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Medal of Arts. He became a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1985, Flatt and Scruggs were inducted together into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Scruggs was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts in the United States.
Four works by Scruggs have been placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame – “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (single, inducted 1999); Foggy Mountain Jamboree, (album, inducted 2012); Foggy Mountain Banjo, (album, inducted 2013) and Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”(single, inducted 1998) on which Scruggs performed.
After Scruggs’ death in 2012 at age 88, the Earl Scruggs Centre was founded with the aid of a federal grant and corporate donors. The facility explains the origins of the banjo transported with the slave trade (and known by many names such as banza and banjer). There was a radio display, a cotton industry exhibit and some of Scruggs’ son’s guitars on show, as well as an interesting interactive exploratory exhibit. I loved the clawhammer, two-finger and three-finger display. Hopefully the Museum will be able to expand to include more of his recorded music and some detail about it.
The Earl Scruggs Centre is an excellent and enduring legacy to one of the most influential American musicians. I recommend you visit there!
All photos of the Earl Scruggs Centre.
We visit the Centre in Shelby NC