I’ll never look at the Waffle House the same way. The one out by the
Assault & Battery Lane exit, 65 South out of Nashville, called Harding Place
before the name change.
It’s actually on Sidco Drive, a parallel runner that’s lower industrial strip
malls. There’s a Cracker Barrel for the more traditional Christian-types.
Then there’s our Waffle House, like an Island of Broken Toys for college
kids trying, sobering up from a benders, gay kids after whippets and
dancing, old Nashville remembering and the occasional country star.
Everybody sits tucked away in formica veneer booths or at the counter on
swivel stools, waiting on their Scattered, Smothered & Covered. Even him.
See, that’s the thing about Earl Scruggs, bluegrass royalty, generational
bridge, iconic artist and musical trailblazer, he was always at home with theSave & Close
You’d see him there. A lot. Especially after his lovely wife/manager/deal
squeezing wife Louise passed on. Or at first, you wouldn’t see him. He’d
just be. Maybe you’d go to pay your check, or else you’d notice how neat
and pressed his denim pants seemed.
Wouldn’t think much about the calm man sitting over his plate of eggs. Until you looked a little closer. Then WHAM! One of those only in Nashville moments: “Crap! That’s Early Scruggs – “ would exclaim the voice in your head.
Mostly people didn’t bother him much. Might stop and say a few words.
You didn’t bother stars at he Waffle House; you sure weren’t gonna pile up
on a legend trying to drink his coffee in the not so early morning hours.
I remember the first time. Sucked in by the demin pants. “Ahhh, what a nice
looking older gentleman,” I thought. I smiled, always a softie for serious
Raising my eyes to gaze into the countenance of this lovely man, I felt my
jaw go slack. “Holy crap! It’s Earl Scruggs…” I hoped was uttered by my
internal voice. He didn’t really look, so the silence was my cover.
He looked up from his plate, met my eyes, smiled.
I smiled back. Dunce, yes, but not paralyzed with shock. Most likely, I was
so surprised, I scanned as someone who had no clue, no notion that this
was the man who invented the intricate 3 finger picking style that almost
eradicated claw-hammer playing.
It was a genuine moment. Quiet, unseen, but engaged. He didn’t need to
show me his Grammys, he offered his heart. Sincerity and warmth is about
as good as it gets.
See, Earl Scruggs might’ve been a master musician and innovator of the
same caliber as Miles Davis or Coltrane, but he was more a man who sought
to bring people together. As a player, his first break came in 1945 with Bill
Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys on the Grand Ole Opry, but it wasn’t long
until he and Lester Flatt teamed up and spent the 50s and 60s barn storming
the country – and creating a true frame for the Appalachian musical form
that was all ache and flying fingers.
Flatt & Scruggs were icons. Standard-bearers. Gospel-carriers.
The audience was white, lower middle class, worked with their hands, backs
hurting. But they found the Flatt & Scruggs sound vitalizing.
And then there were the hippies. When the 60s folk movement hit and the
hippie generation erupted, Earl Scruggs – in part at the behest of his wife
Louise – packed up his sons and took the Earl Scruggs Review to colleges
across the nation.
With the Viet Nam War in full throttle, college kids protesting and drugs
making their way into the mainstream youth culture, musicianship and a
yearning for authentic made Scruggs the hottest ticket with the hippest kids.
This was breaking ground and healing generational damage just by being
who he was.
And who he was transcended what he was. Always a player of high
execution and credibility, Scruggs also believed in music’s transcendence.
When country was as right as you could get and Jane Fonda the only woman
more radical than Joan Baez, Scruggs couldn’t wait to make music with her
-- recognizing the crystal clarity in her voice.
He also played with hippie sitar player Ravi Shankar, the folk-pop band the
Byrds and Bob Dylan. The Eastern music and inscrutable lyrics engaging
him in new and thrilling ways.
Which was really all Scruggs wanted: to be engaged, pushed, challenged, to
see how far music could go. He was there when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
recorded Will The Circle Be Unbroken and returned for Will The Circle
Be Unbroken, Vol 2, produced by his acoustic guitar virtuoso son Randy
He was there at the Opry. With and without Flatt.
He was all about making music. When Steve Martin got serious about
bluegrass, Scruggs was there. When Elton John wanted to play with a banjo
man, he was there. Indeed, he was as comfortable with Billy Bob Thornton
as he was Vince Gill or Marty Stuart – and folks like John Fogerty and Leon
Russell clamored to play with the man who’s in the Country Music Hall of
Fame, has received the National Medal of the Arts, recorded Red, Hot &
Country for the Red Hot Organization, which supports AIDS charities , and
received a Grammy for his 1968 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” as well
as writing and recording “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” for “The Beverly
It is vast this legacy. Marks left in places most would never think of, yet
when you pull back and consider… of course.
Like the Waffle House, where I don’t get around to near as much now that
my metabolism has slowed to a crawl. Its just one more all night dive off I65
just south of town, except that Earl Scruggs used to sit at its counter, quietly
eating his breakfast.
Always one of my favorite things to tell out of town guests!
“THIS is Earl Scruggs Waffle House!” I would proudly declare. Their eyes
would open wide. Sometimes they’d get lucky and he’d walk in, or I’d
signal with my own eyes where to look.
Now, of course, you won’t have to. He’s not there. Although my money –
once he gets sorted out in heaven – is that he’ll be back. You’ll find him
sitting there at the second or third stool, not quite present, but there… Just a
presence that will never quite leave.
Of course, when you make the musical mark Earl Scruggs did, you won’t
ever be gone. People will listen to his records and marvel; pick up their
instrument and practice the complicated three fingers rolls, the wildly
His mark shall last forever. So will his soul. A man from the same Piedmont
region in North Carolina – which gave us contemporary hipsters Carolina
Chocolate Drops – he was dedicated to his craft, pushing boundaries and
sorting out what the future held.
There’s no more sorting. Earl Scruggs is in heaven. With the angels. With
the Angel Band – and all is, though somewhat sad and slightly empty, alright
with the world, with the ones who pay attention, even as we’re sad through