I came to love country music when I was about nine. We were living in northwest Florida then--my dad was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base--and we made annual summer trips north to visit Dad's family in southern Indiana and Mom's in central Pennsylvania. This involved driving across parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. Although neither of my parents was a country music fan, driving through this territory it was often all that could be found on the car radio. I enjoyed traveling by car, taking in the scenery, watching passing trains (in those days often headed by steam locomotives), reading the Burma Shave signs (e.g. "Grandpa says/ It ain't too late/ He's gone to get/ Some widow bait/ Burma-Shave"), and listening to the music. I especially liked old-time and bluegrass music, though I didn't know that was what it was called at the time. I must have heard Earl Scruggs, who died Wednesday at the age of 88, along with his guitar picking partner Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys many times on these trips. The clip above, courtesy of the Gator Rock Channel, shows them during their and the Grand Ole Opry's heyday, sometime in the 1950s or early '60s.
The clip above, taken from a 2003 PBS show, The Three Pickers, features Scruggs with fellow North Carolinian Doc Watson on guitar, and multi-talented Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs, part of a younger generation of bluegrass musicians, on mandolin, doing three songs.
In this clip, also from The Three Pickers, they're joined by another of the new generation of bluegrass, Alison Krauss, on fiddle and vocals. The song is "Banks of the Ohio", one that I remember clearly from one of those childhood car trips, probably because I heard it as we were traveling through the Ohio River valley somewhere just east of Cincinnati.
Goodbye, Earl, and thanks for the music.