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Monday, March 08, 2010

Bob Dylan and Earl Scruggs - East Virginia Blues

One of the things you learn about Bob Dylan is there's always something more to learn about Bob Dylan.  I had never heard of this documentary about Earl Scruggs, variously known as "Earl Scruggs Bluegrass Banjo Legend," "Earl Scruggs: Family and Friends" and "The Bluegrass Legend" among other various titles, and the info about it is slim and as mysterious as the title changes or why Roger McGuinn's last name is spelled as "McGwinn" in the opening credits.  The film was shot by documentary filmmaker David Hoffman, probably sometime between 1969 and 1972,  and aired on PBS (then known as NET, appropriately enough) in either 1970, 1971 or 1972.  You can find various sources claiming all those titles and dates.

How Dylan - or Joan Baez or The Byrds - became involved in the documentary and listed as "Friends" is another mystery, although I suspect Bob Johnston, who was both Dylan's and Scruggs producer at the time, played a role. According to the "Bob Dylan Roots" site:
Basically, Bob Johnston, with his emphasis on the new breed of singer-songwriters (as opposed to the staunch-traditional country and bluegrass songwriters) contributed to the break-up of Flatt & Scruggs. While Earl Scruggs expressed a growing boredom with traditional bluegrass ("I was playing the same thing over and over every night. I just couldn't stand it any longer."), Lester Flatt felt uneasy with Bob Johnston: "He also cuts Bob Dylan and we would record what he would come up with, regardless of whether I liked it or not. I can't sing Bob Dylan stuff, I mean. Columbia has got Bob Dylan, why did they want me?"
- Neil V. Rosenberg, Liner notes for "Flatt & Scruggs", Time-Life Records TLCW-04, 1982
Dylan is playing with Earl Scruggs and Scruggs' sons Gary and Randy, collectively known as "The Earl Scruggs Revue," formed after Scruggs broke up with long-time partner Lester Flatt.  The documentary can be found at Amazon aalthough I suggest you read the reviews before making a purchase decision.  The documentary can also be viewed online at Dailymotion.

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