Singer, songwriter, producer, guitar
Although Randy Scruggs has spent most of his time behind the scenes, appearing on and/or producing a multitude of country albums, his influence on country music has been significant. As an award-winning songwriter, producer, guitarist and vocalist, Randy Scruggs, who began his musical career in the 1970s, continued to break new ground in music into the 1990s. Scruggs “has firmly established his own imprint on contemporary country music,” said Janet E. Williams in The Encyclopedia of Country Music.
Born in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee, to legendary banjo great Earl Scruggs of Flatt & Randy Scruggs Scruggs was immersed in country and bluegrass music. Mother Maybelle Carter introduced Scruggs to the auto-harp when he was just six years old. His fascination with the instrument led him to learn many of the songs of the Carter Family and other traditional artists. Impromptu jam sessions at the Scruggs home were a regular event. Guests included the Carter Family, the Byrds, Ravi Shankar, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young.
Although Scruggs’ earlier influences were the sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, the Carter Family and Doc Watson, he also incorporated the sounds of Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Michael Bloomfield, and Eric Clapton into his later music. The XPN website said that “while raised in country, Randy has had a successful and prolific career bringing together all genres of roots music.,” Overall, Scruggs admitted that his biggest influence has always been his father. “I see that passion when he picks up an instrument,” Scruggs told Michael Gray in comments available on the Country website. “I see it, too, in the faces of people that hear him play. It’s reflective. The passion he puts into the music becomes a part of those people who are exposed to it. I hope that my music is reflective in that way, that it goes beyond just being a personal statement and affects people in a positive way.,”
After he learned to play the autoharp, Scruggs continued to develop skills with other instruments and in various areas of music. From his early years and into adulthood, Scruggs never slowed down and has been playing music ever since. At nine years old, Scruggs made his first guest appearance on his father’s syndicated television program Flatt & Scruggs. Two years later, Scruggs’ interest in the acoustic guitar began to grow, and, at age 13, he played on his first recording. Soon after, his guitar work became a regular feature on recordings by Flatt & Scruggs, and he played on other artists’ albums as well. Scruggs’ Reprise Records biography said, “He fondly remembers being pulled out of middle school so he could record an album with country-great Waylon Jennings, a mentor who taught him an early lesson about individualistic expression….,”
Born August 3, 1953 in Nashville, TN; son of banjo player Earl Scruggs.
Made first recording at the age of 13; has worked with artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Ricky Scaggs, Waylon Jennings, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; named one of the nation’s top guitarist by Guitar Player, 1980; has produced albums for artists including Moe Bandy, Bobby Bare, Carl Perkins, Patty Loveless, and Wilco; released solo debut album, Crown of Jewels, 1998.
Awards: CMA Award, Producer of the Year, for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2, 1989; Grammy Award, Best Country Instrumental, for “Amazing Grace,” in 1989, and for “A Soldier’s Joy,” (with Vince Gill), 1998; CMA Award, Producer of the Year, for Alison Krauss & Union Station’s “When You Say Nothing at All,” 1995.
In 1969, Scruggs teamed up with his brother Gary to form The Scruggs Brothers. Under this name the duo released two albums on Vanguard Records. Shortly after, the two were joined by younger brother Steven and father Earl to form the Earl Scruggs Revue. Although Scruggs had a good singing voice, his focus in the Revue was acoustic guitar. “I think I the way the Revue was originally set up, my concentrations really were on guitar. And Gary’s was as a vocalist and, of course, he played bass,” Scruggs told Rich Kienzle in Country Music. “I didn’t feel the urge to be a vocalist at that time, but also I think through the years my voice has matured and that there’s more character to it now. I feel like I can bring more to it than when I was younger.,”
While part of the Revue, Scruggs continued to be a highly requested session player and worked with artist such as Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Waylon Jennings, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He became one of the industry’s most respected and sought after session players, and was named one of the nation’s top guitarist by Guitar Player in 1980. Also in 1980, Scruggs opened his own production company and produced records by Moe Bandy, Bobby Bare, Earl Thomas Conley, Dean Dillon, Skip Ewing, Steve Forbert, Waylon Jennings, Sawyer Brown, Steve Wariner, and others. Most notably, Scruggs earned a CMA Award as producer for the 1989 Album of the Year, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2, by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The same year he also won a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental for his recording of “Amazing Grace.,”
His production of Red Hot and Country illustrated that Scruggs’ talent and dedication extended beyond the musical sound to social issues. The compilation, a benefit album for AIDS research and awareness, found Scruggs producing Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Patty Loveless, Wilco, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, to name a few. In 1995, another of Scruggs’ productions helped bridge the gap between the country and pop genres. Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album featured Alison Krauss & Union Station singing “When You Say Nothing At All.,” The single not only won Scruggs a CMA award for Single of the Year, but also proved that his skills were applicable to other styles besides country. A substantial country radio hit, the song also received significant play on pop and top 40 radio stations.
In addition to his accomplishments as a producer, Scruggs also lent his songwriting talents to more than 100 songs that were recorded by major artist, including Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs, Sawyer Brown, Steve Wariner, John Anderson, Waylon Jennings, Earl Thomas Conley, and Deana Carter. It was not until 1998 that he released his first album. For the first time, Scruggs stood in the spotlight rather than behind the scenes. He did not exactly come to the front as a solo performer, however. Scruggs was joined by several special guests including Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Prine, Bruce Hornsby, Joan Osborne, Emmylou Harris, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Sam Bush, Kenny Aronoff, Roger McGuinn, Delbert McClinton, John Hiatt, and his father, Earl Scruggs. Scruggs’ 17-year-old daughter, Lindsey, also contributed to the album. Scruggs had produced and written songs for many of the artists previously mentioned, and all involved felt excited to be a part of the new album. “His expertise as a writer, producer and player has helped shape the works of countless musicians and singers, many of whom returned the favor with their participation on Crown of Jewels,” said Gray.
Crown of Jewelswas a career summary, tracing the path Scruggs had taken from the beginning of his autoharp playing days until the release of the album. “This has been a lifetime in the making as far as how deep it goes back from the roots until now,” Scruggs told Reno Kling in the Main Event. He later added, “From all the experience I’ve had as a producer, writer and musician, I’m able to put all those elements together. It’s all added to the depth and the quality of the project. Crown of Jewels is a reflection of my musical lifetime. I’m thrilled now to go inside and look at myself and find out what it is that wants me to wake up and pick up a guitar and be inspired. This album is what dreams are made of.,”
Scruggs did not forget his influences while choosing the songs for the album. “Wild Flower,” performed by Emmylou Harris and Iris DeMent, incorporated the old time sound of The Carter Family and Mother Maybelle and brought them into the present. “I first started playing the autoharp when I was six, and it was [Mother Maybelle’s] and [The Carter Family’s] music. And then a little bit later, I started playing the guitar, and ‘Wild Flower’ was one of the earliest songs I ever learned through her style,” Scruggs told Kienzle. “Including it on Crown of Jewels was special for me, not only because of The Carter Family influence, but also with Emmylou and Iris DeMent.,” Scruggs remembered his greatest influence in his cover of his father’s classic instrumental hit, “Lonesome Ruben.,” For the song, Scruggs was joined by his father and Jerry Douglas. He was excited to have the opportunity to record with his father on his own album. He recalled to Kienzle, “I was ecstatic about [the recording]. Dad and I have played together all throughout my life at home and in the studio. It’s a very relaxed feeling to record with him.,”
Although Scruggs did cover some of his old favorites, he also included new material, writing or co-writing five of the songs on the album. Scruggs penned “Passin’ Thru,” with Johnny Cash. While working as producer and artist in the past, this was the first time the two had written a song together. “It felt great to do something with him on a writing level,” said Scruggs told Gray, “because it’s such an intimate process—perhaps the most intimate element of making an album. The key to writing meaningful songs is to be able to get at your deepest emotions—remove the veil and expose it all.,” Performed as a duet, Scruggs’ vocals were joined by pop artist Joan Osborne who was able to blend her voice and contemporary style with his own bluegrass/country heritage.
The title track, “Crown of Jewels,” was written especially for the project by Bruce Hornsby at the request of Scruggs. The song also featured Hornsby on vocals and piano. Although Scruggs did not sing every song, he continued to play the roles of guitarist and producer. “Scruggs is the glue to each tune, and his gentle and heartfelt touch is the reason all these folks came to play,” said James Bickers in the Courier-Journal. “The only potential problem with Crown of Jewels is the impossibly high standard it sets for the rest of the country-music business. After such an accomplishment, the calculated hit-making that passes for much of country songwriting surely feels like a bitter pill.,”
Crown of Jewelsgave Randy Scruggs the opportunity to be in the spotlight. “It’s about time that Randy Scruggs got some of the credit due him,” the Twangzine website concluded. “He’s been in the background long enough. His dynamic picking has graced a lot of hit records. He’s been behind the producer’s glass on a lot more. But now it’s his time to shine…. This disc is a collection of Jewels. It’s a crown he can wear proudly.,”
Crown of Jewels, Reprise Records, 1998.
With Gary Scruggs
The Scruggs Brothers, Vanguard, 1972.
All the Way Home, Vanguard, 1994.
Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Country Music, November 1, 1998, pp. 48-49.
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), August 22, 1998.
“Cat Paws,” The Folk Sampler Cat Paw Music Review, http://www.folksampler.com/reviews/1998/october/scruggs.htm (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs,” All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com/cg/x.dll (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs",” Reprise Records, http://www.wbr.com/nashville/randyscruggs/cmp/rsbio.html (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs,” www.country.com, http://www.country.com/gen/music/artist/randy-scruggs.html (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs, Crown of Jewels,” Main Event, http://www.gibson.com/magazines/amplifier/1998/7/mainevent.html (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs-Crown of Jewels,” Twangzine, http://www.klondyke.net/whome/rev/rev-scruggs.html (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs, Crown of Jewels,” XPN’s Featured Album, http://www.xpn.org/sections/featured_album_past/featured_album_072098.html (February 13, 2000).
“Randy Scruggs Has Set A Musical Gem In His Crown of Jewels,” Randy Scruggs Feature, http://www.country.com/article/mus-news-new/randy-scruggs-feature.html (February 13, 2000).
“Sharps & Flats,” Salon, http://www.salon.com/ent/music/reviews/1998/08/19review.html (February 13, 2000).
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