Nashville, Tenn – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) is proud to announce two inductees to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame for 2010: the uniquely talented songwriter, singer and banjo/fiddle stylist John Hartford and pioneering manager/agent Louise Scruggs.
John Hartford won GRAMMY awards in three different decades, recorded a catalog of more than 30 albums, and wrote one of the most popular songs of all time, Gentle on my Mind. He was a regular guest and contributor on the Glen Campbell Good Time Hour and the Smothers Brothers Show. He added music and narration to Ken Burns landmark Civil War television series, and he was an integral part of the hugely popular “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack and Down from the Mountain concert tour.
John Hartford was an American original, a musician, songwriter, steamboat pilot, author, artist, disc jockey, calligrapher, dancer, folklorist, father and historian. Born John Cowan Harford in New York on December 30, 1937, John grew up in St. Louis. A descendent of Patrick Henry and cousin of Tennessee Williams, John’s grandfather was a founder of the Missouri Bar Association and his father was a prominent doctor. At an early age John fell in love with two things: music and the Mississippi River, and these two passions would last a lifetime.
In 1965 he moved to Nashville, and the following year Chet Atkins signed him with RCA Records. It was Atkins who convinced John to add a “t” to his last name, becoming John Hartford. In 1967 his second RCA release Earthwords & Music featured the single “Gentle On My Mind”, a song Hartford wrote after seeing the movie Dr. Zhivago. That year the song earned four GRAMMYs. Glen Campbell’s version became an instant classic, and Gentle on My Mind became one of the most recorded and performed songs of all time, covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin.
In 1968 John left Nashville for Los Angeles, where he played on the Byrds’ classic album, Sweethearts of the Rodeo. He became a regular guest and contributor on CBS’s Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and he earned his riverboat pilot’s license by the end of the decade.
Hartford became mentor for a generation of musicians and songwriters. His landmark record, Aereo-Plain (1971) documented his work with Vassar Clements, Norman Blake and Tut Taylor. Rooted firmly in tradition but sprouting at the top with hippie hair, the group’s instrumental mastery and free-wheeling style bridged a musical gap between traditional bluegrass and a progressive new audience. According to Sam Bush, “Without Aereo-Plain, there would be no newgrass music.”
In 1976, John won another GRAMMY for his contemporary folk masterpiece, Mark Twang. The album featured a set of river-centric original songs, featuring Hartford accompanying himself on banjo, fiddle or guitar while tapping his feet on an amplified sheet of plywood. The combination was magical, and would become his trademark sound for many years as a solo act. During festival season, his instinct for single-handedly captivating an audience would often have him leaving the stage and leading a processional of joyful dancers through the grounds, like a fiddle-playing pied piper. Later in his career, he would revisit different ensemble configurations, recording and touring with his son, Jamie and with various incarnations of the John Hartford String Band. John’s love for old-time music, especially fiddle tunes and their transcription for publications, helped create a renewed awareness and appreciation for the music of fiddlers like Ed Haley and Benny Martin, among others.
At his house overlooking the Cumberland River, John continued to write, record and fill his hours with music. Already a published author (Steamboat in a Cornfield and Word Movies), Hartford also developed an extensive manuscript on the life and music of fiddler, Ed Haley. In 2001 he was awarded a GRAMMY award for his contribution to the soundtrack of O, Brother Where Art Thou? His appearance on the subsequent “Down from the Mountain” tour was immortalized in the concert film. He died on June 4, 2001, after a long battle with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If the title first lady of country & bluegrass music business could be attributed to anyone, it would most certainly belong to Louise Scruggs. Over a span of 58 years she led her husband’s career down a path to superstardom, as she managed, booked and negotiated recording contracts first for Flatt & Scruggs, and later for the Earl Scruggs Revue and Earl Scruggs Family & Friends.
Born February 17, 1927 in Grant, Tennessee east of Nashville, Anne Louise Certain married Earl Scruggs on April 18, 1948, around the time Flatt and Scruggs resigned their employment with Bill Monroe and formed their own group. By 1955 Mrs. Scruggs had taken over booking Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, and their sponsorship by Martha White Mills of Nashville, begun in June 1953 on radio and on personal appearances, was followed two years later by a heavy schedule of weekly television shows on stations in throughout the Southeast.
Louise Scruggs’ ability and professionalism was a significant factor in the successful and distinguished career of Flatt & Scruggs, and she was a pioneering figure in artist management and other areas of the early country music scene in Nashville during the 1950s and 1960s. As their business manager, Mrs. Scruggs coordinated the band’s personal appearance schedule, filled orders for song and picture books–totaling several thousand a month in the period immediately following a broadcast offer of a new edition, answered fan mail, administered their publishing company, and she also wrote liner notes for several albums. Every decision she made always involved looking at the bigger picture and the effects such a decision would have later down the road.
In addition to promoting the act within the folk music community, Mrs. Scruggs took the band and bluegrass music to a mainstream audience. Her accomplishments included an opening spot for the band on tour with Joan Baez, performances at the Newport Folk Festival, live concert recordings at Carnegie Hall and Vanderbilt University, bookings on the college campus circuit in the 1950s-60s and television appearances on the Beverly Hillbillies show. Flatt & Scruggs recording of the show’s theme song, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, became a #1 hit and the series is still in syndication today. Warren Beatty also chose Flatt & Scruggs 1949 recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown for his 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde. Mrs. Scruggs was also involved in graphic design concepts for Flatt & Scruggs albums and she co-wrote several of their songs.
When Flatt & Scruggs parted ways in 1969, Mrs. Scruggs helped re-invent her husband’s career as he and their sons, Randy, Gary and Steve, explored rock influences in the Earl Scruggs Revue. They appeared on a PBS special with Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds, among others; and Mrs. Scruggs negotiated her husband’s involvement in the landmark Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. In 2005 Scruggs received the Source Award for accomplishments as a Pioneering Woman of Music Row, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled Banjo Man: The Musical Journey of Earl Scruggs, an exhibit which also included his wife’s role in his success. ”I didn’t get where I went just on talent,” Earl Scruggs told The Tennessean newspaper when the exhibit opened. “What talent I had would never have peaked without her. She helped shape music up as a business, instead of just people out picking and grinning.”
Louise Scruggs died February 2, 2006 at the age of 78. The Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum was established in 2007 to honor music industry leaders who honor her legacy in music management. Recipients are chosen by representatives of the Gibson Foundation and the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and receive final approval from the Scruggs family.
Scruggs will be the first female inducted individually into the Hall of Fame. Prior women inducted with groups include Sara and Maybelle Carter, as well as Polly, Janis and Miggie of The Lewis Family.
The Hall of Fame inductions will be one of the high points of the International Bluegrass Music Awards, which will take place September 30, 2010 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ibma.org or by calling 1-888-GET-IBMA or (615) 256-3222.