Louise Scruggs: 1927 to 2006
She was born Louise Certain, near Lebanon, Tennessee, not far from Nashville — and certain and focused she would be. The first woman to be a full-time manager of a major act in the history of country music, she was so forceful, creative and effective in her behind-the-scenes job that Flatt & Scruggs became the best-known faces ever to come out of bluegrass, and her husband of 58 years is known to the bluegrass world simply as “Earl.”
With a broad vision of musical possibilities that was a perfect match for Earl’s — unconstrained by genre boundaries, utterly knowledgeable about tradition but unafraid to bust it wide open — Louise developed music positioning and branding ideas by the end of the 1950s that virtually defined the territory to be dubbed “Americana” decades later.
When I interviewed Earl and Louise at their Nashville home just last year, at the time of a major Country Music Hall Of Fame exhibit tracking their lives and working relationship, Earl Scruggs simply said, “She’s a country girl, raised up that way, but she’s been the best business person I’ve ever been associated with — as well as my wife. She just put all of her energy and her thought into my career, and whatever success I’ve had has been a tribute to her.”
When most ’50s bluegrass-style acts were looking for one-night stands at high schools or drive-in movies, Louise was already moving Flatt & Scruggs from radio to weekly syndicated television. Paying close attention to potential venue operators all across the country, she’d learned as early as 1954 that some in the fledgling folk music movement were following Earl’s revolutionary banjo stylings closely. Under her career guidance, Flatt & Scruggs moved toward folk-flavored LPs, and they would come to record songs by the likes of Bob Dylan — a personal favorite of hers.
She booked Earl at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, beginning the tie between bluegrass and the folk boom, even while avoiding using the “bluegrass” genre term because it was getting acts nowhere on the singles charts and radio. She took Flatt & Scruggs to university shows, had them play and record at Carnegie Hall, and helped them gain singularly broad recognition through appearances on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and soundtrack work on Bonnie And Clyde.
After the breakup of Flatt & Scruggs, Louise managed the cross-generational, country rock-oriented Earl Scruggs Revue, which included the couple’s talented sons Gary, Randy and Steve, through a decade of success in the ’70s on the college and rock circuit. The same woman who could be a famously tough business negotiator once sewed 3,500 rhinestones onto a jeans suit for young son Steve, who’d longed for his own Nudie outfit. The tender Earl and Louise love story that began when she first saw him on the Opry stage in 1945 remains one for books as yet unwritten.
Earl says of her, “She envisioned the things that could be done, but hadn’t yet been done, better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”