“Earl Scruggs is one of the most important historical figures in American ‘roots music.’ His life and music are grounded firmly in the folk culture of the Carolina Piedmont region, drawing on old string-band sounds, singing traditions and the feeling for community and kin that characterize the rural South. But at the same time, he was a powerful innovater….and became one of the chief architects of the ‘bluegrass’ sound that has swept the nation and indeed the world.”
-Historian Tom Hanchett
An afternoon of family fun is to be had by all at the Earl Scruggs Center. The center, an interactive museum, is a great place to learn about Earl Scruggs’ humble beginnings, the area and time in which he grew up, his career, blue grass music, and the three finger picking banjo style that he perfected. The Earl Scruggs Center is located in Cleveland County, North Carolina where Scruggs was born and raised.
The tour starts with a 12 minute video that tells of Earl Scruggs’ early life, his career, and how he effected the musical world. The video not only features Earl Scruggs and a few family members, but also includes clips of successful musicians remarking on his influential career. Some of the musicians noted in this video and two other videos in the tour are: Alison Brown, Rhiannon Giddens, Bob Carlin, Dave Talbot, Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Dom Flemons, Chris Pandolfi, Peter Wernick, J.D. Crowe, Barry Abernathy, and Steve Martin.
The next part of the tour leads to an exhibit displaying the evolution of the banjo. I had no idea the instrument originated on the west coast of Africa. In the earlier days the banjo was called names like banza, banjer, and banshaw. The primitive banjo consisted of hollow gourds with hide coverings, long necks without frets, and strings made from vine or guts. The great thing about the Earl Scruggs Center is that there has been an extra detail added to the displays. When you purchase your tickets, you’re given a set of ear buds. At most stations there is an output jack to plug the ear buds into and get more of the story or to listen to the sounds being discussed in the display. This is one of those displays that gives your visit an added experience. You actually get to hear the change in the instrument as it evolves.
Next, is the Common Threads display. This is my kids’ favorite part of the museum. Plug your ear buds into the Common threads table, place your hand on the screen, and then pick your option. You can choose from place, artist, genre, influence, instrument, or time. Each option comes with more options and then displays pictures or videos of musical performances by different musicians, depending on the options you chose. You can also choose the “Pickin’ Party” where you are given a song that you can digitally play along with depending on the instrument you choose.
The tour continues into the “Out Of Carolina” room. This room contains three different radios from three different decades; thirties, forties, and fifties. They each have jacks for the ear buds so that you can hear the popular songs, advertisements, and news reports from those decades. Since Scruggs grew up near and worked for the cotton mill, there is also an exhibit of cotton mill life. Included in this display is the way different types of music came together in the mill villages. The boll weevil bug is also mentioned because of the way it drastically changed things in the trade of cotton. This part of the tour also catalogues Scruggs’ start with Bill Munroe and the Bluegrass Boys, as well as his career take off as a part of Flatt and Scruggs. Yes, my favorite area of this part of the tour are the televisions with The Beverly Hillbilly’s playing on them. Totally made my day! Since our visit, every time The Beverly Hillbilly’s play on television, the kids start talking about the cool theme song and Earl Scruggs.
The very last part of the tour continues in “The Turning Road” room. Can I just say that I love that they put a Bob Dylan quote up to see as you enter the room? “For the times they are a–changing.” This last part of the tour tells of Scruggs’ later career, his awards and honors, his break up with Lester Flatt, thoughts on his presence in the 1969 Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam, and his time in the Earl Scruggs Review band. I think it’s really neat that Scruggs wasn’t afraid to change with the times and his sons didn’t mind jamming with their dad. The best display in this room is the interactive “Banjo Breakdown” that helps you hear and see the difference in the “Claw Hammer,” Two Finger Pick, and the “Three Finger Pick” better known as “Scruggs style.”
Following the life and career of Earl Scruggs is fascinating. Scruggs, who came from such humble beginnings, played Carnegie Hall, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, won the lifetime achievement Award at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, and also received a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Using his God-given talents, this man from rural North Carolina made an irrevocable change in the world of music. I think Porter Wagoner said it best, “Earl is to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to Baseball. He is the best there ever was and the best there ever will be.”
Check out this link for more information on the Earl Scruggs Center: http://earlscruggscenter.org