Randy Scruggs, a soft-spoken, multi-talented musician and artist from a great American music family, died on Tuesday at age 64, reportedly from an illness.
Scruggs was an in-demand session guitarist who won four Grammy Awards for his instrumental work. And he was a three-time CMA Musician of the Year as well. Scruggs was a prolific songwriter with more than 100 recorded credits and a sought-after studio owner and record producer. He was the middle son of bluegrass banjo icon Earl Scruggs and Louise Scruggs, Nashville’s pioneering female artist manager. But he was beloved and respected on his own terms for his talents and gentle spirit by the Nashville music community at large.
Randy was born August 3, 1953 and raised in Nashville while father Earl was largely on the road fronting the nation’s premiere bluegrass band, Flatt & Scruggs. Yet he was surrounded by the primary sources of country music. His first instrument was the autoharp, complete with lessons from family friend and Country Music Hall of Famer Mother Maybelle Carter. Then he got a guitar at age 12, and as he said in a 2010 interview for North Carolina’s Earl Scruggs Center, the instrument became an obsession.
“Oh definitely, I didn’t have to be talked into (that)," he said. "I loved playing the guitar. I often would play it until I fell asleep, and the guitar would end up the next morning on the bed next to me."
After Flatt & Scruggs broke up in 1969, Earl Scruggs sought new challenges and found them at home, playing with his sons, who’d already released two albums for Vanguard as The Scruggs Brothers. Joining forces after a successful impromptu show with Earl, they formed The Earl Scruggs Revue, which became a landmark in progressive bluegrass and country rock. With youngest brother Steve on drums, Gary on bass and Randy on guitars, they were one of the top drawing acts on college campuses during the 1970s.
By the time he settled down and opened his own studio in the Berry Hill neighborhood around 1980, Randy had already recorded with Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He was involved as player or producer on all three of the all-star Will The Circle Be Unbroken albums.
At last in 1998, Scruggs made his one and only album as a featured artist. Crown Of Jewels was a critically acclaimed labor of love featuring a number of his closest colleagues, including Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Roger McGuinn, Bruce Hornsby, John Prine and Joan Osborne. He sang with Osborne on a song he wrote with Johnny Cash called “Passin’ Through.”
Rosanne Cash, who was also featured on Crown of Jewels, was among many who paid tribute on Wednesday, tweeting: “He was a brilliant musician and a sweet soul, and my first serious crush. My heart aches today.”
A memorial service is being planned.