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Wearing the Crown

Randy Scruggs could easily wear the crown of many nations in the world of music. So far this year he has taken on the role of producer for a legends tribute album; has been a collaborator on a song with an international star; and score and act in a movie with a country hunk.

Randy Scruggs could easily wear the crown of many nations in the world of music. So far this year he has taken on the role of producer for a legends tribute album; has been a collaborator on a song with an international star; and score and act in a movie with a country hunk.

From Nashville to Los Angeles to Las Vegas, to New York, catching up with the Dylanesque-looking producer/musician is no easy feat. “Right now, I’m working on a film score for a movie starring Toby Keith,” says Scruggs from a cell phone. “There’s an independent film I’m in discussions with also, and I just finished mastering a project with a group from Newfoundland called the Ennis Sisters.”

We managed to catch Scruggs in between projects and asked the acclaimed guitarist, Grammy-winning producer and hit songwriter to weigh in on growing up in the music business (bluegrass legend, Earl Scruggs is his father), technology, his favorite instruments and his current projects.

On Growing Up in the Music Biz:
I consider myself a person filled with music. I feel fortunate to have grown up within a household where there was such love for music and for collaborative work. As long as I can remember, we had all types of artists and musicians and friends, some professional and some not who would often gather at our house for a pickin’ fest and we’d jam together. My dad’s background is roots and bluegrass music, which was really the first steppingstone for me. But as he was very open to other kinds of music, so was I. Some of the people that would stop by our house were the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt and Ravi Shankar–all of which kept me enthused and influenced me.

On the Collaborative Technology:
I love the fact that with new technology we can better capture performances and nuances of an artist’s work, whether it is in the studio or live. But I try not to let that get in the way of the work I do, both as a musician then as a producer, because I think you can become so technically driven that you start to lose sight of what is being created.

Some of the new technology has allowed us to make music without the entire band present, but I appreciate the dynamics of several musicians together at the same time. For me, it’s best when I’m playing and sitting right across from another musician who’s inspiring me as well as supporting the music I’m playing. I think sometimes it’s difficult to piecemeal that, and in certain types of projects it’s really about layering music and starting with barebones foundation and then building upward. At the same time, my real thrill is there when it’s all happening at once. I think that’s probably why I’ve been drawn to projects such as Will the Circle Be Unbroken and the Keith Whitley tribute album and other projects of that nature that involve lots of different artists. That is really a true collaborative effort.

On the Man and His Gear:
I have certain instruments that I’ve had since I was about 20 years old. One of them is a guitar that actually belongs to my dad, a Martin 00045, which has such a sweet sound. I used to play it in the early days of the Earl Scruggs Revue. And there’s the Ibanez guitar that I’ve had since the early ’70s. I used that guitar on a recording I did with Rosanne Cash for her Tennessee Flat Top Box. Along the way I’ve acquired other great instruments like an Advance Jumbo Gibson guitar that I’ve had for 10 years, which I love.

In my studio, I have a Neve 8232 console that I’ve owned since 1989 when we did Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume II. It’s a great-sounding console, and we’ve done a lot of great projects on it including Earl Scruggs and Friends, which featured everyone from Elton John and Sting to Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Etheridge and a lot of other great artists.

On Songwriting, Film Scoring and Tributes:
I recently had a great experience working with Billy Bob (Thornton) again, both in writing a song from scratch and also creating it on the spot in his studio, which has a great creative atmosphere. He has such a creative spirit. Billy and I actually go several years back to when I was playing with my dad’s band as part of the Earl Scruggs Revue, and Billy and his brother had a band and we played a show together.

He comes from that “live-performance-musician hungry” attitude. We had a good time together and ended up writing and recording a great song titled, “Bound to Live.” Billy had the original idea, and it was so powerful because we were just talking about the complexity in our lives, places, experiences and that we’re just two people walking around on this planet with a determination to survive. It was exciting to see that song come to life; he’s a great songwriter to collaborate with.

I’m also working on a movie titled, Broken Bridges, that Toby Keith stars in along with Kelly Preston, Burt Reynolds and Lindsey Haun. Toby and I are co-producing the music track. I actually have a cameo in it where I’m pickin’ the guitar with some folks on the porch. I’m also scoring additional music for the film. It’s been a lot of fun.

I just finished an inspiring project titled, The Pilgrim–A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson. I’ve known Kris since he first came to Nashville and was working as a janitor at Columbia Studios, and we always stayed in contact. My brother Gary and I played on an album he did with his wife at the time, Rita Coolidge. So it was a real honor when I was asked to be project producer on this recording, which has 18 sides featuring Willie Nelson, Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and so many more incredible artists. There’s a lot of paperwork and scheduling issues involved with a project of this magnitude, but it’s so rewarding when it gets down to the actual recording of the music because the artists so much want to be a part of it. Sometimes there are highs and lows associated with the recording of a particular album over a period of time, but this one stayed on a high the entire time.