Rollin’ In My Dreams (1975)

Earl Scruggs Review

Written by Don Nix
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In 1975, “Rollin’ In My Dreams” turned Earl Scruggs from genius Bluegrass picker and Country impresario into a master of Rock.

Lester Flatt and Earl ScruggsScruggs perfected three-finger banjo picking, and with Lester Flatt, (both men at left), virtually brought the Grand Ole Opry into modern times, helping Country music become a worldwide artistic force, a legacy that has since been squandered in many ways.

Additionally, he composed “The Ballad Of Jed Clampett” for TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies. His “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” performed in its most classic form with Flatt, is the yardstick by which all uptempo Bluegrass-inspired music is measured, from “The Devil went Down To Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band to The Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil.”

“Rollin’ In My Dreams”

Above and beyond music, Scruggs was a flat-out vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, performing at Washington, DC’s epic Moratorium To End The War In Vietnam in 1969. This set him apart from many of his Country music counterparts who confused blind loyalty with patriotism.

Scruggs and CashBeginning in 1973, Scruggs began appearing with his sons Gary and Randy Scruggs accompanied by a rotating back-up crew on albums and live appearances under the umbrella name “The Earl Scruggs Review.” In 1975, the group recorded Anniversary Special, a brilliant collection of songs. How Scruggs came to know all the personnel who somehow participated on the work is as mystery-laden as the music itself. Songs by Dylan, Johnny Cash (at right with Scruggs), Jim Messina, and Loudon Wainwright III appear.

On “Rollin’ In My Dreams,” playing side by side with the Scruggs are Roger McGuinn of Byrds fame on his 12-string, and Countrypolitan singer/songwriter Larry Gaitlin playing acoustic, as does Randy Scruggs.

Lead guitarist Reggie Young played on enormously famous tracks from “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis to The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and from Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man” to Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind.” He is all aces.

Piano player Leon Pendarvis has been a member of The Saturday Night Live Band since 1980 and is clearly at home no matter what style ivories is called for.

Willie HallWillie Hall is the drummer (at right). He started with The Bar-Kays, the Stax/Volt records band that was the forerunner to Booker T. & The M.G.s. Hall got his chance when most of The Bar-Kays went down in the crash that killed Otis Redding. He went on to play with Isaac Hayes on Hot Buttered Soul and The Isaac Hayes Movement,  as well as for Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, The Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Daniels, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt and Todd Rundgren. Oh, and as the drummer for The Blues Brothers.

The result of this grand collaboration is nothing less than one of the apogees of American Country Rock. It captures the restlessness of the American spirit, its painful rootlessness, its cavalier attitude toward woman, relationships and physical place. For all its backward-looking sentiment, “Rollin’ In My Dreams” communicates a breath of fresh air. It ever so slightly alters Don Nix’s original lyrics.

Headed for the open skies of Texas
Out on the long highway in the morning sun
Goinna see my woman in Nogales
She don’t speak much English
But she sure is a lot of fun

And I’m rollin’ in my dreams once again
Goin’ where the sun always shines
I’m rollin’ in my dreams once again my friend
And I hope nobody wakes me til I die

Scruggs’ banjo is as in fine fettle as ever and it works marvelously and intricately with the stuttering, mountain-dew rhythms and with the vocals by Gary Scruggs and Dan Fogelberg that carry the subtlest hitch of emotion. The narrator is happy to be free, it seems, but there is a sense that he knows the good times he’s had with his girl could likely never come again.

The panorama of Texas and New Mexico compels the listener to fall in love with the song, simple as the sketch lines are.

I met her in a roadhouse down in Clovis
I asked to buy her a drink and she quickly smiled
In dusty cars and pickup trucks we hitchhiked
All along the Southwest along the Great Divide

A quick bit of praise is due here for Don Nix’s minimalist lyrics. A simple story it is, but one told with such economy that  we have to take a moment to accept that we’re listening to the rise and fall of a romance in about 200 words. The spareness works in perfect reciprocal synch with the music, which adds the mood, the expansiveness, the exhilaration and heartbreak.

Pendarvis’s opening piano signal to the listener that a “Western” is about to unfold. The rest of the instruments kick in and the song begins to canter out of town. Soon the big vistas of the west open up. Scruggs’ picking is reminiscent of something you might hear twanging in the days of ’49, Gold Rush music.

Scruggs Randy YoungRandy Young’s lead is stirring, stinging. He works up and down the fretboard quick as a roadrunner while expressing an easy down-home sensibility – provided your home is a 100 megawatt power plant. His strings vibrate with professional flair, never showboaty but, well, downright perfect, giving us a taste of Clapton and George Harrison if they put on overalls and smoked corn cob pipes. Emotionally, he never allows the song to become either sudsy or maudlin, yet the magnificent lead provides a sense of loss. Rousingly beautiful and touching.

Willie Hall’s drumming is superb, punctuating each “chapter” of the little story, bringing the band to a near stop when need be and herding it forward in conjunction with the bass playing of Gary Scruggs. The last chapter is the sad one. (As if we didn’t see it coming, although, somehow that makes it even more delicious.)

Left her at a truck stop outside Dallas
Brown suitcase full of postcards in her hand
And ever since that day I’ve been a-roaming
And I’m going back to Texas and there I’ll make my stand 

Scruggs did it allEarl Scruggs is the leader of the band. No mistaking that. His clout as a founding father of Country and Rock-N-Roll is not in doubt. The consummate professional does the best thing a bandleader can do, though.

He assembles the best players for the kind of songs he’s laying down (The Pointer Sisters sing elsewhere on the album on “Third Rate Romance,” for instance). And then he lets them play and play and play.

To button up the song, all the instruments clear out except a lonely cymbal, which soon melts away to allow the piano to take it all home. Tinkling, tinkling in the night. Those big, bright stars over the desert twinkle, then disappear.

 

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  • On all the editions of The Earl Scruggs Review, Earl had the taste and savvy to choose great songs from brilliant songwriters. From Dylan: “Song To Woody,” “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry,” and “Down In The Flood.” Mike Nesmith’s lilting yodeler, “Some Of Shelley’s Blues.” Michael Martin Murphy’s “Black Slider’s Wine.” Johnny Cash’s “Hey Porter.” A.P. Carter, founding member of the Carter family country dynasty, supplied “Gospel Ship.”

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