Friday, April 6, 2012

Flatt & Scruggs - The Reunion

As many of my constant readers may know (since you are most likely a family member), I play a little bluegrass banjo. Well, last week the world and the bluegrass community lost its biggest star, Earl Scruggs. 

It may be argued that nobody has ever redefined the sound of an instrument like Earl did with the banjo. Before Earl, the banjo was mostly frailed using a brush of the hand type clawhammer style in Old Time music which made it more of a rhythm instrument backing up the leads of the fiddle. When Earl put on a thumbpick, two finger picks and started his syncopated three-finger roll it changed everything. Sure other guys were experimenting with similar techniques but Earl brought it to Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys on the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and turned bluegrass music on its ear. Earl Scruggs has been a major influence on just about everyone who has picked up a 5 string since.

Lester and Earl, together again.

My original Lester sketch.
My original Earl sketch.
He and his buddy Lester Flatt broke off from Bill Monroe's group a couple of years later and in 1948 started up The Foggy Mountain Boys. This is where bluegrass music had its golden age. It is amazing how many of the classic bluegrass banjo instrumentals out there are Earl's originals or at least his arrangements. He wasn't the most technical and didn't play the most difficult finger twisting arrangements imaginable but he was a MONSTER on tone, syncopation and what he called "playing the words". That was the beauty of Earl's playing, it was simple enough that you could figure out what he was doing and you could learn his techniques. Then again, playing the same notes as Earl is one thing... sounding like him is another.

Lester Flatt was a lead singer and rhythm guitar player. He became a bluegrass legend too. His unmistakable voice is rated among bluegrass' best ever and his famous Lester Flatt G- Run is the most used lick in bluegrass guitar. The Foggy Mountain Boys broke up in 1969 and Lester died 10 years later thus ending the possibility of a reunion concert... until now.

I had already started working on caricatures for Lester and Earl before hearing the news of Earl's passing. I was going to do a scene of them in front of the old Martha White Flour bus they used to tour around in or stand them onstage at Carnegie Hall or the Grand Ole Opry. I had rough sketches of their faces done on paper but hadn't scanned them in to the computer yet for inking or coloring. Then Earl died and I thought maybe I could do something different so got right to work on it.

This scene took an IMMENSE amount of time to complete. I'm sure any expert will find some accuracy flaws but I worked pretty closely from pictures of Lester's famous Martin D-28 with the extra large pickguard and Earl's Gibson. Their all-white outfits were typical of their style and fit the whole "heaven" theme. I spent a lot of time on the shading, clouds and pearly gates as well.

The original file is huge. At print quality (300dpi) it is 64 x 72" and almost 3 gigabytes. The faces are the same size I scanned them so are about the size of a sheet of paper. That means I can use the originals for almost any size print but it also takes my seven year old XP computer 10 minutes just to save the file. Everything is in Photoshop layers so I can move stuff around and erase different parts with the click of a button.

So, this is by far my most ambitious caricature to date. It was a good learning experience and hopefully I will be able to use some of the "parts" to make a few more Flatt & Scruggs caricatures "Down the road just a mile or two..."

1 comment:

Christy said...

wonderful tribute!