The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook: Testament to Earl Scruggs

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The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook: A Testament to Earl Scruggs

by Emerald Butler

Hal Leonard is releasing a new Earl Scruggs banjo songbook later this month. The publishing company and distributor released the Earl Scruggs banjo method several years ago with the book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo.  Now, Hal Leonard has transcribed 84 of Scruggs’ instrumental masterpieces in The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook.  

Jeff Schroedl, the Executive Vice President at Hal Leonard, shared that the company has wanted to create an Earl Scruggs songbook since the release of the revised and enhanced Scruggs banjo method back in 2005. The original Earl Scruggs banjo method dates back to the late 1960s with Earl Scruggs teaching readers how to play banjo from the ground up. This is very much a “how-to” book that Schroedl believes to be the best-selling banjo method of all time. The new songbook, however, is here for musicians who want to learn more of Scruggs’s tunes as he performed and recorded them. The company stayed in touch with Earl’s son, Gary Scruggs, and has been working closely with him and a team of transcribers to pick the tunes transcribed in the new songbook.

“The method book includes many songs, but certainly not a large portion of what Earl recorded,” Schroedl stated. “We spent a great deal of time compiling and curating the list for the songbook. Not only the song titles themselves but also which exact recordings would be transcribed.”

Schroedl said that it normally doesn’t take more than 9 months to create a songbook, but this publication took a lot longer than that. Once the team finalized their selection, next came the process of requiring a license from the original publisher to include the songs in the songbook.

“There are dozens and dozens of publishers that we had to reach out to secure the proper licensing, but then the transcribing itself is very meticulous.”

The project officially started in March of 2017 to finalize the proper song list and understand the discography.

“In Earl’s case,” Schroedl began, “he recorded a lot of the same songs many times and we had to identify which recording specifically we wanted to pull from.”

Deciding and finding those recordings was editor Jim Schustedt. Schustedt gathered the majority of the recording sources and assigned songs to different transcribers. Schroedl said that the team ordered the DVD collection of the Flatt and Scruggs Grand Ole Opry TV Show which broadcast from 1955 until 1969. 

With a combination of audio and video sources gathered from DVD sets, old recordings, and scoured YouTube videos, the transcribing team got to work.

Schroedl stated that it usually takes a transcriber a couple of hours to transcribe a song, but it depends on the song.

“This was a more complex transcribing project than most just because Earl is such a virtuoso player.”

Once the transcriptions are in, the editor pours over them to review the accuracy. From there everything is put into computer notation and then proofread for a couple of rounds. The artwork is then created and sent to be approved by Gary Scruggs. Once it’s approved, the team puts it all together and sends it to print. There have been a few adjustments made over the past couple of months, but the Earl Scruggs Songbook is set to be published by May 15 according to the staff at Hal Leonard.

Schroedl shared that “Gary understands and appreciates how many people love his father’s music and look up to him as a great banjoist. I think Gary just wants the utmost quality as we do. We want it to look good, be accurate, and to be a testament to Earl’s playing.”