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Louise Scruggs was ‘behind-the-scenes’ star

Submitted photo Louise Scruggs kisses her husband Earl.
Submitted photo Louise Scruggs kisses her husband Earl.

Throughout my life, I have always heard the saying, ‘Behind every great man, there is a great woman.’ For banjo legend Earl Scruggs, that statement could not have been any closer to the truth.

With great foresight, Louise sternly directed Earl’s career. She was the first female booking agent in Nashville and without question, she used her take-charge approach to do exactly that for five decades.

Born Ann Louise Certain, she grew up in Lebanon, Tenn. During the struggles of the Great Depression, her parents worked extremely hard just to make ends meet. As a child, Louise received a toy typewriter. This proved to be an early incentive for things to come.

Louise spent her adolescent years dreaming of a better life. Finally, her childhood wishes came true. She moved to Nashville and worked as an accountant.

She attended a Grand Ole Opry performance in 1946.. Among the artists on the show that evening were Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys. While most of the audience was shouting and screaming at Earl’s three-finger banjo style, Louise was more impressed by the then 22-year-old musician for his looks, not so much his playing. Following the show, the two met.

Realizing the potential of their own act, Earl and guitarist Lester Flatt left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948. Soon, they formed Flatt & Scruggs. Later that year, Earl and Louise married.

In 1955, Louise started managing and booking Flatt & Scruggs. Immediately, she brought organization to an unorganized bluegrass field while keeping a firm hand on the duo’s pulse. And it worked. As the folk music scene became increasingly popular, Louise began booking Flatt & Scruggs on college campuses and folk festivals throughout the country.

Then, Hollywood called. In 1962, the music of Flatt & Scruggs became the opening theme for The Beverly Hillbillies, as their version of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” marked the first bluegrass song to reach number one on the country charts. In addition, Flatt & Scruggs began making occasional appearances on the CBS sitcom.

Another key event happened in 1967. The Flatt & Scruggs instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was used as the theme for the film Bonnie and Clyde, although the tune was actually recorded in 1949.

Of all of Louise’s decisions, one of the most striking was calling artist Thomas B. Allen to paint eye-catching covers for 17 of Flatt & Scruggs’ albums. As records were on store shelves, this instantly gave their albums a blend of uniqueness and individuality.

Monroe had created bluegrass music, but it was Flatt & Scruggs who set the standard of quality that we associate today with the genre. From behind the scenes, Louise was in charge. She took the duo and bluegrass music to uncharted territory.

In 1969, the legendary two-some went their separate ways. Flatt formed the Nashville Grass, a traditional band. As for Earl, he teamed with his sons and experimented with new sounds as the Earl Scruggs Revue. Once again, Louise guided the vessel.

When the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded their ground-breaking album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” in 1972, both Louise and Earl played a major role in assembling older musicians for the project. For the remainder of the decade, the Earl Scruggs Revue continued to be popular with the folk-rock crowd.

On Feb. 2, 2006, Louise died. She was 78. Louise was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2010. This was a fitting accolade for a lady who quietly helped her husband’s name become synonymous with the five-string banjo.

Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at charleshaymes@gmail.com.

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