Perfect Timing

        There were two boys who lived down near the river.   They had a simple life, and went to school and worked chores on the farm.  There was no television, and little radio except for the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night.  They liked music.  There were a few players around they watched, but no one to teach them regular lessons.  For a long time, there was no record player to listen to.  They had to dig deep and get it on their own.  One learned the banjo; the other the guitar.

        They found their own way to get it right.  The two boys would stand back to back at the front of the house and begin to play ‘Sally Goodin.’  (around here we call it ‘Sally Good’un’)  They continued to play as they walked around the old farmhouse.  When they met in the back if they were not in time together, they’d again stand back to back and play the tune as they walked to the front.   They wore out a pig path around the house.  Over time they wound up together in the song more often than not.

        The guitar boy was Horace.  He chose a quiet life, but played music for almost eighty years.  He had perfect timing.  The banjo boy was Earl.  He went on to play Carnegie Hall.  He still plays, and he too has perfect timing.

        Years later when the young people would ask Horace for advice, he’d counsel, “Son, I believe I’d work on my timing.”

        There’s an old joke in music: 

        Q:  ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’  

        A:  ‘Practice, son, practice.’

        Even if one chooses a different life and decides not to try for Carnegie Hall, there is only one way to perfect timing, and it is the same answer.

       This post is dedicated to the memory of our old N.C. pal Horace Scruggs.  He has since passed on, but will never be forgotten.

Dr. B

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12 Comments on “Perfect Timing”

  1. Martin Waddell Says:

    This hasn’t got anything directly to do with your story about the Scruggs brothers, but I thought you might be pleased to know that bluegrass is about to hit town here in Scotland. Every January in the main concert hall and other venues in Glasgow, there’s a series of concerts known as Celtic Connections. Originally started out at mostly Scottish and Irish traditional music, but it’s expanded into other music from all over the world. This year, it’s the turn of bluegrass, with a big concert in the Royal Concert Hall featuring Blue Highway and Alecia Nugent. I’m gutted, ‘cos I can’t get to it, but BBC Radio Scotland played some Alecia Nugent the other night, and it was great! Inspired me to investigate this tremendous music some more, and I’m sure I’m not the only Scot who’ll be doing this.

    • drtombibey Says:

      Ah but brother Martin, it has all to do the Scruggs brothers and your timing is also perfect.

      You see, I told this story to Alison Brown at the Don Gibson theater and she enjoyed it, so I decided to post it on the blog today. For a California girl to pick the banjo in Earl’s hometown had enormous historic significance here in N.C. The circle will never be unbroken.

      Alison will be in Glasgow at the end of the month for a series of shows, and I am certain they will be very Celtic influenced.

      I plan to post more details on her show here in N.C. first thing in the morning.

      Y’all enjoy her show. Tell all your friends not to miss this young lady and her band.

      And too, tell her, her husband, and all the Quartet her North Carolina bluegrass brethren (and sisters too) wish them a safe journey.

      Dr. B

      • Martin Waddell Says:

        Thanks for that, Dr B! Just caught a couple of clips of Alison Brown on YouTube, one of which is her and her band doing a medley called Going to Glasgow. See she’s done Celtic Connections a few years ago as well, so obviously bluegrass isn’t as new to us Scots as I thought. I may have been slow in getting there, but now I’m well and truly hooked!

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Cool! She’s a player for sure.

    Look for my post on the Alison Brown Quartet in the morning. They are bluegrass, but consider them bluegrass on rocket fuel. (It’ll make sense in the Monday Morning Post.)

    Dr. B

  3. Simpkins Says:

    Dr. B

    I never get tired of hearing this story, And I am very proud to say that I as well as you have heard Mr. Horace tell it to us many times in person, and along with you I miss him very much. Thanks Bro. Horace for the great memories you will never be forgotten.


  4. rkbaker Says:

    Ha! I’ll never play in Carnegie Hall either; but I love music, love to play it, etc. I don’t know about timing, but I know about heart…

    • drtombibey Says:


      Well you are likely farther along than you think, ’cause if you have the heart you will find the timing.

      If I go to Carnegie Hall it’ll be ’cause I bought a ticket, but I also believe the heart is most important of all.

      Dr. B

  5. Val Says:

    That was a brilliant story Dr.B and you did Horace Scruggs’ memory justice. Reading your blog has brought back so many memories of listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio when I was really little. It’s been so long since I’ve given myself over to listening those sounds again. Lately I’ve been watching some old footage of Scruggs, Patsy Cline and The Carter Family. It really does move the soul.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Bless you Val for keeping Horace’s memory alive in Newfoundland.

      You are right, most of us bluegrassers are in this for life. It is indeed part of our soul.

      Dr. B

  6. johnny clarkson Says:

    Hi dr. B,
    Im johnny,a 72 yr. old, “old guitarpikker”.I’m not a jam up bluegrass picker.I “sit in”ocasionly with some
    good b.g. groups when they perform & i ” jus do my thang” & they seem to like it,& i love it! I grew up on country, r&b, rock,blues, semi-jazz & latin. I really love to hear folks like- steve kaufman, “the DOC”, alison k., alison b.,I followed the “atkins culture” for about35-40 yrs(tho i’m not a finger picker).bela flek, c. daniels, dan tyminski,nickle creek,r.skaggs,tony rice,john sebastian, dave grissman, j.d. crowe & many others. i love to hear their “authenticity, their drive” in the b.g.field.I still have a passion for the 30s to 90s jazz pickers.I listened to dan tyminski sing “mama cried”&I thought the timing was “off”. if you can help me , they changed chords on the “9s”, but the chorus was strict 4/4.if you’re familiar with his tune,what kind of rythym– or–timing is that?
    thanks,i appreciate the good site here! will be checkin’ it again—-thanx, —Johnny

    • drtombibey Says:


      Hey thanks for your visit; you’re speaking my language, brother.

      I think I recall that Dan Tyminski tune but it has been a while. I’ll go back and listen and might ask some of my pals who play pro as I am not sure.

      Dr. B

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