Bluegrass loses a great Banjo Picker

Hello everyone.   As a banjo player, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the death of Earl Scruggs at 88.  Without question he was the most influencial banjo picker of all time.  His “three finger style” propelled bluegrass into the main stream of American culture.  He is most famous for performing two songs.  The first was brought into our living rooms from the TV series, “Beverly Hillbillies”.  The song of course was “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”.  The second song was the theme song for the movie entitled: “Bonnie and Clyde” and was instrumental song was called:  “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. 

These two songs are standard equipment for any banjo player that is serious about their playing.  Ironically, the songs are quite different in the skill it takes to play them, with the first one is pretty simple while the second song is fairly complex in the skill level required to make it sound right.

Earl Scruggs has a long musical journey but during his last few years, he played with a lot of famous musicians.  One of these is the actor/comedian, Steve Martin, who is an excellent banjo player himself.  Earl started playing with Bill Monroe and later become very popular with Lester Flatt and the became well known as “Flatt and Scruggs”.  The story goes on and on….

Earl was never one to really want any awards of noteriety, but just wanted to play the music he loved.  He will be missed a lot but his legacy will live on and on.  


Local Bluegrass Musician Interview

Hello everyone.  You are going to really enjoy this interview with my friend Jim Downs.  He has been around the bluegrass circuit for a good many years and has a very interesting background.  He is currently the VP of our HABOT club and is a lot of fun to pick with.  You can tell he really loves jamming just by his smile not to mention his great musical talent. Give him a hello next time you see him.
BB: Introduction – Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? 
Jim: I was born in Marshall, MO. My family is primarily from a farming background.  We moved to Kansas City when I was 8 years old and I grew up in the Turner, Kansas area.  Sue was one of my next-door neighbors, and we grew up together playing basketball and hide and seek.  Somewhere around high school we fell in love and
we have been together ever since. 
BB:  When did you get started in your musical journey?   
Jim: Music was a way of life in our family, (my mothers side) all my aunts and uncles played music, most professionally.  They all played at dances and live radio, and all the family get together’s were big jam sessions.
BB:  What happened after that?
Jim:  My grandfather would take my brother and I to the barn dances where he played every Saturday night, we were only 5 or 6 when this started.  These were truly barn dances, the place was heated with two big pot bellied stoves and the toilets were outside. It was actually a barn with a cement floor.  (It is still there today)
BB:  Where did you go from there?
Jim: I learned to play guitar with a hand me down guitar and when we were old enough to start in school band I learned to play saxophone. At the ripe old age of 13 I got my first job playing for money, at the same barn dance I grew up at.  I made $10 a night playing from 8 till midnight.  (Things haven’t changed much as far as my pay goes)  I did get a free pop and hamburger after the dance.
BB:  What happened after the next?
Jim:  In high school I played in a band called the “Kansas City Sound”. We played rock a billy, Chuck Berry and Elvis stuff at dances all over the KC area.  I played tenor sax and electric rhythm guitar.  (Yes I had long hair)   When I got married I quit playing for a long time, kids and career became my priority.  Then about 1980 Sue bought a mandolin for my birthday, it was always an instrument that I was fond of.  I learned to play the mandolin and began following bluegrass from that point on.
BB:  How did you get into Bluegrass/Old Time/Other Music?
Jim:  Old Time music has always been part of my life. I grew up on Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, so bluegrass is not too far away from that.  I always tell people that bluegrass is just country music on steroids.     
BB:  What is your favorite Bluegrass Band or Artist? Who influenced you the most?
Jim: I don’t really have a favorite band or artist. I like so many it is hard to choose.  Audie Blaylock and The Gibson Brothers are way up on my list for current artists.  And of course all the old timers are great. 
BB:  How many songs have you written?
Jim: I have not written any songs yet, but I see that happening in the near future. 
BB:  What advice would you give to young people wanting to get started in Bluegrass?
Jim: My advice to young people starting out in bluegrass is, DO IT YOUR WAY!
Try and find young people to play with, go to events where young people hang out, and play, play, play.  DO NOT LET THE OLDER PEOPLE DISCOURAGE YOU.
It’s OK to be different for a while, you will return to the roots of bluegrass in due time.
BB:  Anything else you want to say to wrap up this interview?

Jim: As most people who know me know, I am very involved in the local bluegrass movement.  I really enjoy the people in bluegrass and intend to keep doing it for a long time

Thanks for reading this interview and if you know of anyone else who would like to be interviewed just let me know.  Bill 

Spring and Outdoor Picking – a great combo!

Hello everyone,

WOW! Did you know that Spring officially begins this year on March 20th?  With the mild winter we have had I can already see some transformation in my yard.   If you look around you may even see a daffodil blooming as noted in my picture.  The bradford pear trees are getting ready to “pop”.  Spring is all around us.

This is always encouraging because before too much longer we can go outside and do some outdoor picking.  In another month I think I will grab my banjo and a couple of friends (yes, I have more than one) and have a mini-jam outside just for fun.  It goes like this;  pick and play, take a break and enjoy some hot banana nut muffins with hot coffee, and back to jamming, then repeat.  How much fun is that?  The only problem is that the cool weather is tough on the instruments, not to mention our fingers.   Spring jammin’ is really fun and
helps pull us out of the winter (what winter?).   What gets you off the couch and outside?  Take advantage of the upcoming warm days and do something constructive to enjoy life.

Don’t foget to attend the annual spring HABOT youth talent show in April because it is always fun to watch and see all the new talent coming on the scene for future generations.

Speaking of HABOT, don’t forgot to attend the next meeting this coming Friday, March 16th.   Click here for more info:     It is always the largest recurring Bluegrass event in the Kansas City Area.  Hope to see you there.

Other news, more interviews coming soon!  This next interview is with very nice guy and he has a lot of talent.  He plays a variety of instruments but tends to focus on the mandolin.  Can you guess who it is?  Keep checking back as you will find out real soon.

If you know of anyone who wants to be added to my email list just have them send me an email at

Boom Chick,