Chris Scruggs (Marty Stuart, Rosie Flores)

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

By Joe Gagliardo

To understand Chris Scruggs’ career, it is important to understand country and pop music history!

Chris’ mom, Gail Davies, is an accomplished singer / songwriter and was the first female record producer in the history of country music.  She duetted with Roger Miller, Ralph Stanley, and her bass players on record included such studio legends as Leland Sklar and Willie Weeks.

Chris’ maternal grandfather is the late country singer Tex Dickerson, and his paternal grandfather is bluegrass banjo legend, Earl Scruggs.  Simply put, Chris grew up surrounded by music, and great singers and players!

After seeing A Hard Day’s Night at age eleven, Chris decided that wanted to play guitar and two years later, he added bass.  His first instrument was an Aria Pro Cardinal Series bass.  After it was stolen, Chris moved to a 70’s Fender Precision bass.  Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he played bass in a rock and roll and rockabilly bands.

When he was seventeen, recording artist Rosie Flores, whose music combines, rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, and western swing sought an upright player – and Chris fit the bill. He borrowed a Kay from a friend and hit the road for the next eighteen months with Rosie.

Upon his return home, Chris was invited to play bass for the band BR45-49 -named after the phone number of a used car dealer in the TV series Hee Haw! However when singer/guitarist Gary Bennett left the band, Chris took over his duties, and the band brought in another bass player. Chris played with BR5-49 until early 2005.  During that time, he wrote and performed the title track of the band’s release, Tangled in the Pines.

In 2005, Chris left BR5-49 to pursue a solo career and to support other artists as well.  Since then, he has forged a busy career playing live and doing session work in Nashville. His work has included playing guitar and steel guitar with Mike Nesmith and Suzy Boguss; upright bass with Chicago legend Robbie Fulks; and bass guitar with She & Him.

Chris released his first solo album, entitled Anthem, in 2009.  He produced the album and composed eleven of its twelve track; Ron Davies, Scruggs’ uncle who best known for having written the rock standard  “It Ain’t Easy” recorded by David Bowie, Three Dog Night, and Long John Baldry, among others, wrote the remaining song.

At the end of 2014, Marty Stuart’s bassist Paul Martin decided to leave Marty’s Fabulous Superlatives. When Chris was asked to recommend a replacement, he stepped in and took the gig himself – and he continues in that roll now in 2020.

Upright influences: Chris has been impacted by Bob Moore (played on Owen Bradley sessions, including Patsy Cline, Elvis and Roy Orbison); Junior Huskey (Grand Ole Opry and session bassist); and Joe Zinkan, a melodic slap upright player.  Another influence is Nashville upright bassist of the 1940s and 1950s, Ernie Newton, who brought an informed sense of jazz elegance and creativity to many of Nashville’s classic bass lines.  These bassists helped create the classic Nashville sound from the 50’s-70’s.  Chris’ knowledge of the Nashville bassists and their playing styles runs very deep.

Photo by Bridget Brewer Abell. Photo by Bridget Brewer Abell.

Photo by Bridget Brewer Abell.

Electric bass influences:  Lee Sklar and Willie Weeks, who played on Gail Davies’ records; David Briggs and his Memphis soul sound; and melodic players, including Paul McCartney, Joe Osborne and Carol Kaye (both pick players from the Wrecking Crew), Paul Simonon (The Clash), and Graham Maby (Joe Jackson Band).

Photo by Ben Scruggs Photo by Ben Scruggs

Photo by Ben Scruggs

Chris’ playing style is varied: fingers, thumb and pick, depending on the needs of the song.  He likes thinking of the bass as a range of tones, and how those tones can move the melody, including the vocals, without taking away from what the other instruments are playing.  In his playing, he has taken stock of the style of some of his influences.  For example, Junior Huskey playing a tag at the end of a song, playing the 5th under the chord, rather than the root, or Bill Black playing the 3rd rather than the root on the downbeat of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

Chris’ main electric basses are a 1964 Lake Placid Blue Fender Precision Bass, and a late 60’s Telecaster Bass, both strung with LaBella Deep Pocket flatwound strings.  On occasion Chris uses a 60’s Hofner violin bass, strung with Pyramid flatwound strings.  He has two Kay uprights, with gut strings.  The D & G strings are gut strings, and the E and A strings are metal wrapped gut strings.  His amplifier is a Fender Bassman 100-T on top of a 1 x 15 Fender Bassman cabinet, and he uses a Radial Tonebone, as a DI.

You can catch Chris playing bass live with Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, or playing acoustic guitar and singing with his own band, Chris Scruggs and the Stone Fox Five.

Check out Chris’ playing on the tracks below, and his explanation of his basslines on those songs:

“Time Don’t Wait”

For the video of Marty Stuart’s “Time Don’t Wait,” we decided to go and film with the First Nation people’s on Pine Ridge Indian reservation. This is a special and sacred place for Marty. He was officially adopted into the tribe and he and his wife (Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith) were married there. On this song, I play high on the fretboard, anchoring the bassline’s downbeat with an open A string and playing an angular, pulsing run on the 12th and 14th frets. The 1960s style “busy bass” of Paul McCartney and Chris Hillman gave me inspiration for this part.

“John Henry”

Here’s me playing the old-time tune “John Henry” with Marty Stuart. My stylistic starting point for this piece lies with Joe Zinkan, the great Nashville session bassist of yesteryear who was often featured playing instrumentals on the Grand Ole Opey with his upright bass in the percussive “slap” style. Some melodies work well for playing tunes on “slap” bass, some do not! Even while showcase pieces like this are occasional fun, it’s always important to remember that the role of the bass is to support all the other players on stage, be they in the rhythm section or on the “front line.” 

“Way Out West”

For the title track of Marty’s most recent release “Way Out West,” I used a pick and took my navigational lead from west coast bassists like Carol Kaye and Joe Osborne, muting my heavy flatwound strings with foam and playing occasional counterpart lines to the song’s chord changes. Sometimes it’s fun to let the guitars anchor the changes while the bass steps out for a change.