Book Breakdown: Earl Scruggs

Title: Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon (Roots of American Music: Folk, Americana, Blues, and Country)
Author: Gordon Castelnero & David L. Russell
Genre: Non-fiction/ Biography
Grade: B

I’m learning the bluegrass style of banjo playing which is often called Scruggs style. I wanted to read more about the man who has influenced so many artists.

It’s refreshing to read about such a talented man who also seemed like a genuinely nice person. Many of the people who knew Earl Scruggs commented on his generosity as much as his skill with the banjo. And Scruggs path to icon status shows the impact he had on the world of bluegrass.

The book certainly has a bias in favor of Scruggs. They don’t go into a lot of details around the negative aspects of his life like band break ups or some of the personal issues he faced. However, it is more of a memoir about his banjo playing rather than a full biography so that makes sense.

The last chapter called The Influence of Earl Scruggs was dry and formulaic just listing quotes from people who were directly or indirectly influenced by Scruggs. Since most of the people were mentioned throughout the book it seemed repetitive. A sad last note for an otherwise fantastic book.

This is a great read I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the banjo. I’m glad I read it after I started learning the banjo because there are a number of passages where they discuss Scruggs specific technique that would have gone over my head without some knowledge of the instrument. Another tip to enhance your enjoyment of the book is to listen to one of Scruggs instrumental albums while reading. It really brings it to life!

Bonus Material: Check out this fun video mentioned in the book of Flatt & Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies!

One thought on “Book Breakdown: Earl Scruggs

  1. “The book certainly has a bias in favor of Scruggs.” – Ummmm, errrrr, what did he do in his life that could, potentially, encourage someone to write a book unfavorable of Scruggs? Maybe he didn’t polish his banjo enough? Or maybe use the the correct strings?

    “However, it is more of a memoir about his banjo playing rather than a full biography so that makes sense.”

    Well……. that is the kind of book we set out to write in the first place. As far as the “negative” side of Earl, do tell.

    What possible relevance could there be to delving into a “bluegrass” banjo player’s negative side? Tell me, exactly who is going to really care about the negative side of Earl Scruggs, a “banjo” player? Seriously? We know he was no saint but we were not going to write a tell-all bio of the man. If someone else wants to do that, have at it. We were interested in his “musical” legacy, not the negative, scandalous side of his life. Besides, none of the scandals about which we heard, can ever be proven. It’s all hearsay. There were low-life’s who were angry that we did not investigate Earl’s sex life. LOL! Like that won’t land you a libel lawsuit? Who cares anyway. BTW, we absolutely did discuss lawsuits and band break ups, go back a read.

    It’s apparent that you really did not closely read the book. The last chapter that you casually dismissed may have featured comments from people who showed up earlier in the book, yet what they spoke of in that chapter were things different in subject matter.

    Your assessment was positive overall (thank you) but your comments about the last chapter place you in a minority when pooled with all the other reviews.


    David Russell


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