Louise and Earl Scruggs first met at the Ryman Auditorium in 1946, and in the years to follow, thanks to her steadfast efforts as his manager and booking agent, she watched him perform there countless more times.
Fittingly, it was at the Ryman, February 6, 2006, that Earl and Louise’s family and friends bid her a fond farewell. I flew in the night before, and entered the famed tabernacle as the morning service was starting. The stage was festooned with a large and gorgeous array of flowers. Alongside the casket at the front of the stage were two lovely pictures of Louise, one her high school graduation picture with a red rose in her hair.
Grand Ole Opry announcer, music historian, and fiddler extraordinaire, Eddie Stubbs, served as informative master of ceremonies, recounting highlights of Louise’s life and introducing a number of speakers and performers. Several of Louise’s favorite songs were performed, “In the Garden”, by Dwight Yoakum, “I Walk the Line” by Travis Tritt, and “Go Rest High” by Vince Gill. Billy Bob Thornton, who first met the Scruggses when his band opened for the Earl Scruggs Revue in 1976, recounted some amusing times, and Marty Stuart and Hugh Howell, Earl’s longtime road manager, recalled old times in the Scruggs home when Louise was raising three sons, cooking for her family and friends, and still doing yoeman’s work on the telephone keeping Flatt & Scruggs busy winning fans all over the world.
Many were touched during the viewing of a rare video interview with Louise, conducted by Eddie Stubbs in the last year at the Country Music Hall of Fame, during an exhibition honoring Earl and Louise. Though clearly not comfortable being interviewed, she was well-spoken, and her extra-dry sense of humor showed in a number of places. It was poignant to hear her talk about being raised as the only child in a poor farming family in Tennessee, and deciding at an early age “there had to be a better way.” As a little girl, she asked for a toy typewriter instead of dolls, and that little typewriter is now on display in the Country Hall of Fame, a precursor to one of the most successful behind-the-scenes careers in the history of country music.
That evening, I lingered at the Scruggs’ home as guests paid their respects and said goodnight. Though Earl was tired, he wanted to talk and reminisce and reflect. He knows he’s in for a lonely time, but said he trusts that time will heal. Louise’s passing will not keep him from playing music and performing. He knows she would want him to continue, and he has performances set up for this year, that he fully intends to fulfill. While he is still moving slowly following his unfortunate fall in November, his knee is healing and his spirit remains strong.
As I left Earl’s home that night, before my early morning flight, I resolved to continue to stay in touch with Earl, this quiet and gentle man whose music has profoundly influenced my life, and that of so many others. At age 82, he has lost his closest companion and his strongest advocate. For all he’s done for me and for all lovers of great music, I wish him the very best as he enters this challenging phase of his illustrious life.
Feb. 17, 2006