Earl Scruggs Revue, Thunderbird, Placitas, New Mexico, 1972.
Digging through negative and slide archives is fun. Having a website and blog to post the latest discoveries is also pretty cool. Here’s one that went unprinted for 40 years. Now on sale at davidbutterfield.com.
Banjo was my first instrument. Like Warren Hellman, R.I.P., the uber mensch backer of Hardly Strictly Fest, I have played banjo (poorly) for 50 years. My inspiration, then and now: Earl Scruggs. B.B. is King of The Blues, Earl is Eternal Monarch of Banjo. One of the great innovators of American music and certainly in the same league as Louis Armstrong, Buck Owens or Jimi Hendrix.
I have referred to Mr. Scruggs as The Country Gentleman (with all due respect to Chet Atkins) for many years. He truly was. When he broke with Lester Flatt and formed this group with his sons, Randy and Gary, in the late 60’s, it was a tidal shift felt in Nashville and around the world of traditional American music. Earl even went so far as to play at the 1969 Vietnam War Moratorium in Washington and publicly denounced the war. How cool is that?!
At the dawn of the 70’s, New Mexico, the backwater nowhereland I’d run away to California to escape in the ’60’s, was now hippie commune nirvana and Placitas’ geodesic dome community was a super-cool, alternative universe. Out of the domes emerged the Katona brothers. who opened the Thunderbird Bar, a biker/hippie heaven on a mountain road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. What a great roadhouse it was, R.I.P., burned to the ground in 1975.
My band, Heart, (not the Seattle one) played there 4 or 5 times in 1971-72. Thursday night was 25-cent tequila night, and the first of the 3-night stand. Of course the band got 1/2 off drinks, making our tequila 12-1/2 cents. How we made it back to Albuquerque after the gig is a solid gold question mark, 40 years old.
The T-bird built a pretty good reputation and drew full houses on Friday and Saturday night. They added a large performance space onto the narrow bar, seen in this photo, and began to book national touring acts like Freddie King and The Earl Scruggs Revue. I was lucky enough to see both.