Bluegrass Guitarist George Shuffler, 1925 - 2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

George Shuffler, the pioneering bluegrass guitarist whose cross-picking style helped define the genre, died April 7. He was 88.

Shuffler was among the early progenitors of bluegrass, as it came to be known in the late 1940s, while playing in such groups as the Bailey Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys.

James Alan Shelton, current Clinch Mountain Boys guitarist and personal friend of Shuffler, posted a statement April 7 on the website Bluegrass Today:

"At a little past noon today, George Shuffler was called up to join the Angel Band. For all of us who have tried down through the years to fill his shoes in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys--Larry Sparks, Keith Whitley, Ricky Lee, Renfro Proffitt, Hank Smith, Junior Blankenship and myself--we all owed a debt of gratitude to George Shuffler for showing us the way."

Born in Valdese, North Carolina in 1925, Shuffler was given his first guitar at age 12 and, taken with the instrument, was soon appearing on stage at his local church and in area talent contests. Shuffler got his big break in 1946 when he sat in on bass at a show by harmony duo the Bailey Brothers who, impressed with his chops, offered him a permanent spot in the band. In 1950, Shuffler was invited to join a band being formed by Carter and Ralph Stanley, beginning what would become an 18-year on-again, off-again musical relationship with the Stanleys, the sibling band leaders credited as being among the fathers of bluegrass.

Shuffler had said his distinctive style was a hybrid of Maybelle Carter’s lead guitar lines and Merle Travis’ bass-note rhythms. Shuffler said he would often combine the two methods to fill in the musical gaps between verses of Stanley Brothers ballads. The effect created a flurry of notes, which became known as cross picking--today it is considered a signature of bluegrass guitar.

In 2011, Shuffler was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

The above video clip features Shuffler explaining his cross-picking method with James Alan Shelton, as part of one of Shelton’s guitar-instructional DVDs.

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