Earl Scruggs Concert/Darin and Brooke Aldridge
This writer gig has it’s perks. I went to the stage door where a burly security man posted guard. I showed him my press pass and took off my glasses. “Is this a ticketed event?” I smiled as I asked.
He peered into my green eye, then my blue one. “Hey, Doc. Don’t need no iris scan for you. Come on in. You gonna play?”
“Believe I’ll leave it to the pros tonight. Historic concert huh?”
A few local pickers hung out with the sound crew as they put on the finishing touches. “Y’all seen Darin and Brooke?” I asked.
I turned a corner and followed the music where the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet warmed up. A country duet caught my ear. It was new and fresh and old fashioned all at the same time. “Y’all need to record that one,” I said. Promoter Milton Harkey was there, and nodded in agreement.
A bus was parked outside. Hoot Hester, staff fiddler for the Grand Old Opry, Rob Ickes, the multiple times IBMA dobro player of the year and super session pickers Jon Randall Stewart and Keith Sewell stepped out. Man was this was some kind of all star band. Then it was the Scruggs family; Gary, Randy, and then Earl. My goodness.
I hung around and swapped old stories for a while. We picked a few tunes. Earl had gone to rest up for the show, but Gary asked if I would like to visit for a minute. Even though I am closing in on old, I was as tickled as a small boy. I reminisced with Earl about how much I enjoyed his music, and shared a few old stories about his brother Horace. We all loved Horace.
I went back to Darin’s warm up room and played a few more with them, then put my mandolin in the case and threw it over my shoulder. “Guys, my Marfar is out in the audience. I believe I ‘m gonna go out and soak this one in. Y’all play hard.”
“We will Doc. Say a prayer for us, we want to do good,” Darin said.
“Y’all always do, young’un, but I’ll say one for good measure anyway.” I knew what this one meant for them. They are an overnight success after a decade of hard work, but there were folks from all over the country there, and many of them were quite influential in the music business. The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet had arrived.
They did not disappoint. Be it straight bluegrass, gospel numbers or country duets, it was perfect instrumentation and flawless harmony. Brooke is a powerful singer, and Darin’s voice matches hers to perfection. They used to say only siblings can get that kind of harmony, but we’re gonna have to revise the bluegrass rule book. That married folk harmony is extra good, too.
I noticed Hoot Hester in the wings checking them out. I love all of their work, but this new country duet sound they have begun to dabble in as of late is made to order for Darin and Brooke. It reminds me of the old Louvin brother duets, except one voice is male and one is female. When they sang the first line I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout it out, “Lord have mercy. I wish the Rev. Larry Shell could be here to hear that song, ’cause folks that is real country! Kill Nashville Pop!”
Marfar sensed my excitement, grasped my elbow, and put a finger to her lips. “Ssssh, Tommy. Be quiet, now.”
“Yes ma’am.” I knew she was right. No sense in getting hauled out by the cops and wrecking the show. I went to speak to them at the break. I hugged Darin and Brooke and shook hands with all the boys. “Great show guys. Don’t forget me, ’cause y’all are done famous.”
Darin smiled. “I ain’t ever gonna forget you, B.”
I went back to my seat. They took the lights back down. The Nashville boys began to lay down a country groove. The spotlight focused on center stage, and of a sudden, there was Earl Scruggs. It was a standing ovation before the first note. All of us old hands know what he means. He redefined the banjo.
My pal Wayne Benson was out on the road, but he sent his best wishes. He said, “When you hear a banjo at a festival you can trace every note back to Earl Scruggs.” Wayne’s wife Kristin Scott Benson was the IBMA banjo player of the year for 2008. She was out on tour with the Grascals. Folks have taken to calling her ‘girl Scruggs.’ Like all professionals in this music she knows what Earl means to it.
Country Music Hall of Fame, Lifetime Grammy winner, more achievements than what I can list. Earl Scruggs.
It was a text book performance of one classic after another. I was especially taken by the old public domain tunes like ‘Sally Goodin’ and ‘Solider’s Joy.’ They are timeless. So is Earl. When Gary commented ‘Solider’s Joy’ went back to the 1800’s Earl joked, “Yeah, I wrote it.” We all got a laugh, but the truth is he did re-write it in that wonderful three finger style. Sometime I wonder who would have preserved some of those tunes if it hadn’t been for Earl.
Randy burned up the ‘Black Mountain Blues.’ (We always called it the Black Mountain Rag.’) Doc Watson would been proud. When Hoot Hester kicked off ‘Dim Lights’ I thought the man had to have played a few honky-tonks before he became a staff fiddler for the Opry. It was one of those staccato country fiddle kick-offs that is often imitated but seldom duplicated to that level. I would have to ask Larry Shell to be sure, as he is more of an expert than I am, but I think ‘Dim Lights’ might be the original honky-tonk song. The classic lyrics go:
“Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand
Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
You’ll never make a wife to a home loving man
A drinkin’ and dancin’ to a honky-tonk band…..”
When the song came out in the 50s it was controversial! Now it is a classic. Keith Sewell coaxed some fine Tele-like twang out of the electric guitar that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Jon Randall Stewart’s singing was exceptional on that one. I thought no one would ever sing the high part like Curly Seckler again, but this young man did it. I was very impressed with him; a talented multi-instrumentalist, great singer, and a cool looking kid to boot; we need to see more of him. He was a nice young man too. It seems like the great ones always have a touch of humility.
Gary called on Jon to sing ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ theme song and then they closed with ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.’ The crowd was on their feet clapping and stomping. Just like 1945 it was magic all over again; just pure magic.
Folks, my life was meant to be a Doc. That’s what God called me to do, and I always give it my best. But I love the music too, and somehow I’ve gotten right in the thick of it. Maybe it was God’s way of looking out after me. You see a lot of heartaches as a Doc, and I can be a bit sensitive to it all at times. The music sure has eased the pains for me.
I’ve been awful lucky. One of my golf pals calls me ‘Moonlight’ after the character in ‘Field of Dreams.’ On the way home I told Marfar maybe I was a bit like Moonlight Graham, ’cause I have lived the dream the whole way. Moonlight was meant to be a Doc, and so was I, but somehow we got to play in the big leagues for at least an inning or two. Not many folks get to shake hands with Earl Scruggs before a concert like that one. I was blessed to get to be any small part of it, and I am thankful for my good fortune.
Thank you Earl Scruggs for what you have done for all of us over the years.