Thursday, May 1, 2014

Remembering Earl Scruggs: Larry Perkins and the "Book of Earl" Project


I took ill during the summer of 2012 and ended up in the emergency room three consecutive days running. 

This is not about my illness. 

It is about the generosity of a Banjo Hangout member, Larry Perkins. 

Banjo Hangout (BHO) is an electronic platform that accommodates 80,000 banjo enthusiasts who contribute to its various forums, blogs, electronic marketplace for banjo and banjo connected goods and services, share photos and videos, engage in friendly banjo contest competitions – it’s an outlet for the obsessively compulsive devotees of a great instrument and the powerful, wide ranging music it has created historically, and the potential it shows as an adaptable, flexible musical machine.

Before I took ill, I saw a note sent by Larry to the BHO membership about his Earl Scruggs project, and his request for assistance in the form of contributions – via purchases of some of his CDs.  The money would go toward defraying the costs of the Earl Scruggs project.

Here’s a recent note on the “Book of Earl” project:

In 2012 I promised Larry I’d help, and then had to tell him I’d get back to him after I dealt with my health issue.

Things leveled off for me and I regained my footing, but before I could attend to my correspondence and send Larry the promised check, I found a stack of Larry’s CDs in the mailbox.  Larry sent me about a half dozen of his bluegrass recordings and a note to cheer up and get well.

We’re only connected by this slim, ephemeral tether of electrons that constitute the Hangout. 

But the friendships that blossom through these links to BHO have great depth and meaning.

I remain flattered by Larry’s generous and caring spirit.

And I will try to follow through on the promise that led to this story.

But in the meantime, let me offer a modest and undistinguished recollection of Earl – not the recollection of a personal friend or a neighbor, just a thankful audience member. 

I saw Earl and his band play once, for free, at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage in Washington, D.C. in 2006.  He was showing his age, and at one point during the concert he had to sit down – but he continued playing, and did the entire nine yards of the show.  As I said this was a free show but I got the sense that Earl put as much into it as he would have had the tickets cost the audience members a hundred bucks.  He played hard and bright, and effortlessly, as though his fingers were on automatic pilot.  He fielded requests from the audience, and played tunes that he admitted he hadn’t fingered in a long, long time, and he played them flawlessly, with vigor.  Earl didn’t have much to say.  His son did the talking.  Earl just played music.  His backup was vibrant, inventive and just fit so nicely and snugly with the tunes being played.  He knew instinctively what to do t get the music to shine, and how to lend the banjo’s voice to any kind of tune.  I didn’t run up to the stage at the end of the concert, hoping to get Earl to sign something.  The Millenium Stage format encouraged that kind of congregating after concerts, and was a small enough venue that the musicians would not have been overrun.  However, I hadn’t hauled along a banjo head for him to inscribe, and I didn’t take any photos.  I just wanted to be in the audience, in the same concert hall as Earl, to see his music close up, and to watch those great hands finger the banjo and make crisp music as he had thousands and thousands of times before.  He did not seem to flag, and he did not seem at all remote from the music he played.  I was glad to be able to watch him, and to come away with the picture of Earl that remains in my mind’s eye. 

Take care.

Play hard.


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