Louise Scruggs

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Much as her husband, Earl Scruggs, revolutionized the banjo, Louise Scruggs transformed the behind-the-scenes business of country music. Nashville's first professional manager and booking agent, she was…
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Much as her husband, Earl Scruggs, revolutionized the banjo, Louise Scruggs transformed the behind-the-scenes business of country music. Nashville's first professional manager and booking agent, she was instrumental in establishing bluegrass as a viable commercial entity. Born Ann Louise Certain in Lebanon, TN, on February 15, 1927, as a child she was given a toy typewriter and desk that she often cited as the inspiration behind her subsequent entrepreneurial pursuits. Louise later moved to Nashville and in 1946, while working as an accountant, attended her first Grand Ole Opry performance. There she fell for headliner Bill Monroe's young sideman Earl Scruggs, who dazzled audiences with his syncopated, three-finger style of banjo picking. Louise and Earl were introduced backstage and married two years later. By that time, he and fellow Monroe alum Lester Flatt were co-leading their own Foggy Mountain Boys, signing to Mercury and recording the bluegrass standard "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Despite scoring hits like "'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered" and receiving their own Martha White Flour-sponsored radio show on Nashville's influential radio station WSM, Flatt and Scruggs still struggled to land high-profile live appearances, so in 1955 Louise took the initiative to begin calling promoters and booking gigs, proving so successful that she soon assumed full control of the group's business and founded her own firm, Scruggs Talent Agency, Inc.

As country's first manager, Scruggs was by default its first female manager as well, and her efforts were critical in carving a niche for women in the male-dominated recording industry. "She advanced me and advanced our music," Earl later said. "I didn't get where I went just on talent. What talent I had would never have peaked without her. She helped shape music up as a business, instead of just people out picking and grinning." In 1959, Scruggs booked her husband a solo performance at the first Newport Folk Festival, galvanizing the folk music audience's embrace of traditional bluegrass, and made it her mission to book Flatt & Scruggs at venues that did not otherwise feature Nashville acts, later conceiving the duo's landmark 1963 live LP At Carnegie Hall! and its sequel, Live at Vanderbilt University. She also recruited New York-based painter Thomas B. Allen to illustrate their album covers, lending a sense of dignity and refinement to their image. Most important, Louise negotiated the deal to include her husband's music in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. While expressing grave concern over the series' potential for perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes, the show's producer, Paul Henning, eventually won her over, and Flatt & Scruggs' immortal theme song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," became a smash hit. Actor Warren Beatty later approached Louise to license Flatt & Scruggs' music for the smash 1967 feature film Bonnie and Clyde, and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" became its main theme.

As the counterculture blossomed, Louise encouraged Flatt & Scruggs to cover songs by rock & roll acts like Bob Dylan, and later earned them gigs at San Francisco's flower-power mecca the Avalon Ballroom as well as the Miami Pop Festival. When such breaks from bluegrass tradition proved more than Lester Flatt could tolerate, he split from Scruggs in 1969. Louise promptly organized the Earl Scruggs Revue, a genre-bending country-rock combo featuring the couple's sons Randy, Gary, and Steve. Touring the university circuit as an opening act for bands including the Byrds and the Grateful Dead, the group's crossover efforts alienated Nashville purists but vaulted Earl to founding-father status in roots-revival circles, leading to his contributions on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken project. After back problems forced Earl to quit touring in 1980, the Revue dissolved. Sadly, Steve Scruggs died of gunshot wounds on September 23, 1992, and Earl laid down his banjo for close to a year, spending much of the decade to follow out of sight before releasing the all-star Earl Scruggs and Friends in 2001. A 2005 Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit, "Banjo Man: The Musical Journey of Earl Scruggs," detailed Louise's myriad contributions to her husband's career, including her creative input into many of Flatt & Scruggs' songs. After a long illness, she died in Nashville on February 2, 2006, just weeks shy of her 79th birthday.