14 June 2020

A persistent myth

There's a persistent myth that when Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt left the Blue Grass Boys early in 1948, Bill Monroe was so angry that he did not speak to them for a long while - sometimes imagined as years or even decades, depending on who tells the story.

Monroe was certainly upset, with good reason; but an impassable chasm did not immediately open up between them, and the evidence for that comes from the most famous instrument exchange in bluegrass history - when Earl Scruggs traded the 1938 Gibson RB-75 #518-1 he was then playing to Don Reno in exchange for the 1934 Gibson RB-Granada #9584-3, plus a Martin guitar to compensate for the poor condition the Granada was in. The two banjos became the main instruments of their new owners for the rest of their careers.*

The exchange has been dated to either the summer of 1948 or early 1949; the important point is that it took place when Reno was a Blue Grass Boy (Mar. 1948-July 1949), and when Monroe and his band were playing as guests on the radio show Flatt & Scruggs had in Bristol, TN/VA. The occasion is described by Earl on p. 163 of Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo (revised ed., 2005).

*Update 15 June: This sentence needs to be qualified in the case of Don Reno, who for the last ten years of his life performed and recorded with a Stelling Golden Cross banjo, while keeping the Gibson (known as 'Nellie') at home.

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