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Interview with Tony Trischka: Nashville Preps a Fabulous Finger Picking Party as Earl Scruggs Turns 100 at the Ryman

by Rich and Laura Lynch

We have had the pleasure of covering bluegrass legend and banjo player Tony Trischka a couple of times over the years. Now, we are excited to learn that he will be coming to Nashville to join an A-list roster of players for the Earl Scruggs' 100th Birthday Celebration happening at the Ryman on January 6, 2024. Tony is set to take the historic stage with Musical Director Jerry Douglas, The Earls of Leicester, The Del McCoury Band, Gena Britt, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, Stuart Duncan, Jimmie Fadden, Bela Fleck, Jeff Hanna, Sierra Hull, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Jim Mill, Justin Moses, Jerry Pentecost, Todd Phillips, Harry Stinson, Bryan Sutton, Abigail Washburn, Pete Wernick - and more - with all proceeds to Benefit The Earl Scruggs Center. But, the celebration is just beginning for Trischka who will taking his new "EarlJam" on the road throughout 2024. We had a few minutes to catch up with Tony before his upcoming big year gets underway in Music City.


Tony Trischka - pictured on stage in New Jersey in 2012 - is looking forward to his trip to Nashville.

MCN: You are headed to Nashville, Tennessee on January 06, 2023 to play a show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. What a night! What a line-up! This has surely got to be a biggie for you and one you have circled on your calendar - is it not?

TT: This certainly is a major event and as a life-long devotee of Earl Scruggs it's a truly big deal for me to be involved in honoring this gentleman who had such a huge influence on my life. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with him in his later years - and, thanks to the fact that I recently acquired very rare recordings of jam sessions Earl and John Hartford participated in - I have a treasure trove of songs we've never heard Earl play before, as well as new ways of playing tunes we know by him.

I was inspired to transcribe about 40 of these tunes and have recorded two albums worth of this material, the first of which, called Earl Jam, will be released on the Down the Road label in March of 2024. Guest artists include Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Vince Gill, Bela Fleck and many others. This is all to say that I'm more excited about Earl's music now than I ever have been before.

MCN: Earl Scruggs is turning 100! What a significant number. Can you reflect on this Bluegrass legend's legacy and influence on the banjo and wider world of music as a whole?

TT: In my view (and many would agree), Bluegrass wouldn't be what it is today if Earl hadn't joined Bill Monroe in October of 1945. Monroe had been experimenting with different sounds in the earlier forties - tenor banjo, accordion, swing feels and so on. Once Earl took on the banjo chair, with Lester Flatt on guitar and Chubby Wise on fiddle, that became the template for Bluegrass as we know it now. That's a pretty big deal. You also have to account for the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have taken up the banjo because they heard Earl, or someone else play "Scruggs Style".

Then there are all of the guitar players, mandolinists, fiddlers, etc that picked up their instruments because they were indirectly influenced by Earl. Also, in the early 70s, Earl, always a forward thinker, started the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons, added drums and electric instruments to his sound and reached a much wider audience for this music and inspired many others to think outside the strictly Bluegrass genre.


There will be 100 candles on the cake to honor the great Earl Scruggs in Music City.

MCN: Some might say that the banjo reached its commercial peak with the release of the song "Dueling Banjos" on the Deliverance soundtrack in 1973. But - that exposure, prominence and recognition surely led to the next generation of players like those who will be on the Nashville bill. Those folks in turn helped spawn - for lack of a better term - the likes of Billy Strings who is now selling out arenas with a banjo led bluegrass jamband hybrid roadshow. So, in your opinion are the instrument's best days in the past, now in the present or somewhere in the future?

TT: I think the banjos best days were in 1945, 1955, 1965, and so on - right into the future. Billy, Molly Tuttle, Tray Wellington and Rhiannon Giddens are moving the banjo forward and explaining it's roots. Also, thanks to Bela Fleck's Blue Ridge Banjo Camp we're getting exposed to a whole new generation of young players, including Nicolai Margolis. Bela too, keeps expanding his vision with a new album featuring various incredible settings of Rhapsody in Blue due in early 2024. And let's not forget how much exposure Steve Martin has given to the banjo in recent years.

MCN: Why don't more guitar players also play the banjo? Sure, some do. But, they seem to be more of a rarity. The famous four- and five-string instrument has a similar look, feel and build to its more popular cousin. Does it take a particular skill set in order to be able master both?

TT: I guess those guitar players missed the memo : ). I started with guitar myself and upon hearing the Kingston Trio's "MTA" song in the early 60s and the solo played by their banjoist Dave Guard, I became obsessed and had to play the five-string. I was already fingerpicking the guitar and was so passionate to learn the banjo, that I found it be an easy transition. So I don't think it takes a unique skill set to be able to master both. It just takes time and, again, passion.

MCN: What is left on the Tony Trischka bucket list - meaning are there still goals yet for you to achieve within music and your career?

TT: I've achieved so much in my life that the older I get, the luckier I feel. I don't know that there's a bucket list for me, per se. I've gotten to play with and produce some incredible people, have gotten to perform at Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Madison Garden, to mention a few. That doesn't mean that I don't have new projects in mind.

Besides the upcoming Earl Jam albums, I've started recording Emily Dickinson poems to which I've written music. I'd also like to do another solo album. Then out of nowhere some other inspiration will probably blindside me and I'll move off in some other unexpected direction.


All the finger picking action will take place at the storied Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Related Links: For more information on TONY TRISCHKA and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Tony Trischka | Earl Scruggs | Ryman Auditorium


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