CD Review – Foggy Mountain Special, a Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs

The producer of Foggy Mountain Special, Tim Austin, assembled a dozen of bluegrass music’s top banjo players and ten stellar backup musicians to record the twelve tunes in this collection. Each track is based on Earl Scruggs’ playing as captured on studio recordings and live tapes made between 1949 and 1969. These tunes range from traditional pieces like “Sally Goodin” and “Reuben” to the western swing instrumental “Steel Guitar Rag” to “Nashville Skyline Rag.” “Pike County Breakdown” is based on Bill Monroe’s supercharged transformation of the folksong “Sweet Betsy from Pike.” “Oh don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike, she crossed the wide prairie with her husband Ike, with two yoke of Oxen – an old yellow dog, three Shanghai roosters and one spotted hog.” I understand that Bill Monroe was rather irritated that Scruggs had recorded his tune “Pike County Breakdown” before he did. Just add this to a long list of issues that would result in them not being on speaking terms for about twenty years.

The majority of the collection’s remaining tunes were written or co-written by Scruggs himself including, arguably, the most famous banjo tune of all time, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

“Flint Hill Special”
“Foggy Mountain Special”
“Randy Lynn Rag”
“Sally Goodin”
“Pike County Breakdown”
“Foggy Mountain Rock”
“Nashville Skyline Rag”
“Earl’s Breakdown”
“Steel Guitar Rag”
“Ground Speed”
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
“Nashville Skyline Rag”

“Nashville Skyline Rag”

This CD is, in good fashion, to pay tribute to the man. I have heard various tracks of these tunes many times before now. I, once again, am marveled by the picking style of Earl and always admired his tone on the banjo, both of which are captured, with respect, by a few great banjo pickers here. Banjo pickers include; Tom Adams, Ron Block, J.D. Crowe, Charlie Cushman, Kenny Ingram, Jim Mills, Joe Mullins, Larry Perkins, Craig Smith, Ron Stewart, David Talbot and Tony Trischka.

Unfortunately, I never personally got to see Earl Scruggs perform live; I guess I was too young. My dad told of seeing and hearing Earl play the banjo from as far back as when he was playing with Bill Monroe in the 1940’s. He told of how an audience would be completely mesmerized by his picking which was a very new and unique thing at that time. I do remember being glued to the black and white TV in the 1970’s as a kid, just to catch a glimpse of Earl’s occasional appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.  I really did not like the show, but I still wanted to see and hear Earl play the banjo on TV. I was also always quite impressed with Lester and Earl’s gentleman like appearance and attitude towards others. I remember Lester saying “thank you very kindly,” you just had to know that these men were really honest, friendly, and appreciative folks that could really pick and sing.

I highly recommend this CD to anyone interested in great music.

Rounder Records

Steve Brandt

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