Epiphone spoke with Chris Scruggs (pictured here backstage with Justin Townes Earle) about his new tour with Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, his weekly honky tonk show in Nashville that's the talk of the town, and his summer tour with She and Him featuring Zooey Deschanel, who will soon play the part of Epiphone's Loretta Lynn in the Broadway version of Coal Miner's Daughter. Perhaps we'll see Scruggs on Broadway with her.
Chris Scruggs is the rare Music City artist who at a young age stood out among legends both young and old as the kind of talent fellow musicians--not just fans--hope for. It wasn't just his ability that got everyone's attention. It was the kind of music Scruggs championed: real country. As a teenager, the son of songwriter and artist Gail Davies (the first female producer allowed on Music Row), immersed himself not on alternative rock but in the lost art of 'hillbilly' music, becoming a master lap steel player and learning everything he could about stylists like Johnny Sibert, Billy Robinson, Bashful Brother Oswald, and Kayton Roberts. At the same time, Chris went around Nashville and knocked on the doors of dozens of studio guitarists from the '40s, '50s, and '60s who had been left by the side of the road in the age of Garth and Shania, learning their secrets and stories. In a sense, 50 years worth of country music lives and breathes in Scruggs' style. His love of the hillbilly groove led to a short stint with BR549 before he set out on his own.
Of course, Chris also fell hard for classic rock and roll. On stage, he is especially fond of an Epiphone Casino not only for its Beatle lineage but because "it's pretty much all you need" when you're on stage.
Epiphone: Tell us about what you're doing this spring and summer tour wise
: Well, from late March through mid April, I'll be out on the road playing guitar, steel and mandolin with the great Michael Nesmith. It's his first real big national tour in a long time so it should be really cool. He was also my favorite Monkee when I watched their show as a kid, probably because he played a guitar.
From mid June through mid July, I'll be out playing guitar, bass, steel and fiddle with She and Him. That tour kicks off June 13th at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. That will be a blast. Zooey's songs are so poppy and timeless and then Matt brings that lo-fi element to these pop gems. It's a really cool sound!
Can we look forward to a new album from you soon?
I finished a record last year that I'm really excited about, but I've been so busy playing with other people lately that it's kind of been in a state of post production limbo. I hope to have it out by the end of this year.
You’ve been performing weekly in Nashville with your honky tonk band. How did that come about?
The Sunday thing is so much fun! It's at the Stone Fox in West Nashville, a new restaurant and venue opened by guitarist William Tyler who also uses a Casino. We're doing old country with the instrumentation that was, in my opinion, the great sound of country music's golden era.
On a typical night we have the legendary Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Kenny Vaughan on electric guitar, Pete Finney on steel guitar, Wes Langlois on archtop rhythm guitar, Jared Manzo on upright bass and myself singing and playing flattop acoustic guitar. It's a six piece band with no drums, which honestly, you don't miss when you combine the upright bass with the archtop "sock" rhythm, and it is just so much fun to do every week!
Sometimes Andy Reiss of the Time Jumpers or Steel Guitar Hall of Famer Billy Robinson will play with us. And there's usually some cool guests in the audience that we'll get to sit in. Last night Mandy Barnett sat in and did the old Carl Smith standard "Are You Teasing Me."
What have you been listening to lately for inspiration?
I'm listening to a few things in particular, fiddle tunes and attempting to get better at playing standards on guitar. Both of these endeavors are with the help of Buddy Spicher. I'll either get together with him on fiddle and I'll play archtop rhythm acoustic and we'll go through tunes like “Body and Soul” and “Stardust,” or we'll get together and play twin fiddles on tunes like “Sugarfoot Rag” or “Snowflake Breakdown.”
Playing music with Buddy is so inspiring. He's so advanced but he's so laid back and humble that you never get nervous or feel pressured. He's a great teacher. I think learning those closed jazz chords needed to play standards is really making music more three dimensional for me.
The difference to me between rock music and jazz is that jazz is fluid and rock, as the name suggests, is very solid. In rock music, the song will definitely be on an A chord and then suddenly moves in a very definite change to a D chord. With jazz, the chords are always moving within themselves. Substitution chords and alternate voicings give it a three dimensional aspect that I find creeping into my own more rock based music.
I once heard Andy Reiss say a diminished chord is like having the clutch in when you're driving your car. A regular chord is like being in gear and that diminished chord puts you out of gear for a second. I though that was a cool way of looking at things.
There's so much great music out there and I think it continues to be made today. Having a good grasp and appreciation for what came before is the only way to move on and be truly progressive. The music of the past provides a bright north star by which to sail into the future.