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The Humble Genius Of Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs with banjo
Earl Scruggs with banjo

For his 99th birth anniversary, WNCW honored the late great Earl Scruggs by sharing portions of interviews with artists who knew him, broadcasting stories ranging from brief encounters in young adulthood, like Sierra Hull’s memories of Earl, on to years of friendship and collaboration with guests like John McEuen and Pete Wernick (note: Sierra Hull will also be our featured guest in her upcoming episode). These conversations were rich and deep, and helped me understand Earl Scruggs as the man in ways that were at turns surprising, but always inspiring. I asked everyone here essentially the same two questions: tell us your favorite memories or stories about Earl, and talk about his impact as an artist and how that legacy continues since he has been gone. It all adds up to three and a half hours of audio (!), and it should be no surprise that there is a ton of gold to be mined in all those conversations; here is a synopsis, a sampling of everyone’s thoughts, insights and memories. This episode hones in on the stories that reveal Earl Scruggs as a humble genius, a quiet and kind man who was in so many ways the same farm boy and mill worker from the foothills of western North Carolina even after living in a mansion in the heart of Nashville. Plus, there is plenty of talk about the genius and enduring legacy of Earl Scruggs, whose namesake lives on in the form of not only his vast catalog of recordings, his songwriting and revolutionary playing style, but also in the Earl Scruggs Center in his home county, housed in the county courthouse built in 1907 in downtown Shelby NC, as well as the Earl Scruggs Music Festival, which began in 2022 and continues on Labor Day weekend in 2023 in nearby Tryon NC. 

In this episode we welcome Kristin Scott Benson, Travis Book, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Jeff Hanna, Vince Herman, John McEuen, Jim Mills, Earl’s nephew J.T. Scruggs, Pete Wernick, and even my dad, who gives us a glimpse of what a Scruggs family gathering was like in the 1950s.

Songs heard in this episode:
“Earl’s Breakdown” by Flatt & Scruggs

“You Are My Flower” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, excerpt

“Hot Corn Cold Corn” by Flatt and Scruggs, from Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall, excerpt

“Some Of Shelley’s Blues” by The Earl Scruggs Revue, excerpt

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Flatt & Scruggs

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Joe Kendrick grew up far off in the woods at in rural Stanfield, NC, where he acquired his first Sony Walkman, listened to both AM and FM radio from Charlotte, went to Nascar races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, attended a small Baptist church, read Rolling Stone, subscribed to cassette clubs, and played one very forgettable season of high school football. From there, Joe studied Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was able to fulfill his dream of being a disc jockey at WXYC. He volunteered at WNCW soon after graduation.