When Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs took the Ryman Auditorium stage with Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys for their first appearance together on the Grand Ole Opry on December 8th, 1945, the moment was a sort of “big bang” for bluegrass. After leaving Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs would spin off into their own band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, performing together until an acrimonious split in early 1969.
With 13-year-old Marty Stuart in his new band, Nashville Grass, Flatt would continue on a more traditional musical path, while Scruggs recruited sons Randy and Gary for the Earl Scruggs Revue, controversially adding electric bass, electric guitar, piano and drums for a more progressive rock-influenced sound. Purists scoffed, but the band found favor with younger audiences, especially on college campuses.
On January 10th, 1971, 48 years ago today, the Earl Scruggs Revue appeared on a PBS special, Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends, which featured 21-year-old Gary and 17-year-old Randy, along with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Doc Watson and Bill Monroe, among others. Also appearing on the program were country-rock pioneers the Byrds, featuring Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin and Gene Parsons. In the above clip from the special, the Byrds join Scruggs and sons on Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which the Byrds actually recorded in 1968, three years before Dylan, who eventually included it on a greatest-hits package in late ’71.
Midway through the clip, Randy Scruggs, who would go on to be an acclaimed picker, songwriter and record producer before his untimely death last April, plays a string-bending acoustic guitar solo as the eldest Scruggs plays banjo in the background in his own distinctive and hugely influential style. The performance, while stretching the boundaries of traditional bluegrass still retains the acoustic feel and multi-part harmonies of classic bluegrass music. In the ensuing years, Earl Scruggs, his sons and his business-minded wife Louise would become a musical dynasty, essential to the growth of the genre not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. Earl Scruggs, who was preceded in death by Louise and their son Steve, died in 2012.