Bluegrass guitarist George Shuffler, 88, died on April 7. Shuffler grew up in Burke County, North Carolina, where he taught himself to play a mail-order guitar. He went on to play as a professional musician for most of his life, including twenty years with the Stanley Brothers. He toured and recorded extensively with bluegrass bands and his own family gospel band. In his later years, he often played with banjo player and singer Laura Boosinger.
His musical experience was long and varied. As a young teenager, he played with a local band that recorded in Lenoir for broadcast on WHKY radio in Hickory. When he was 18 years old, he began playing with the Melody Mountain Boys, a band that included his brother John Shuffler, Curly Williams, and Lester Woody, who also played with the Stanley Brothers. From there he went to the band Mustard and Gravy. Charlie Slade, who was one half of the Mustard and Gravy act, split and formed his own band, and George went with him. They played at local venues and radio stations and at the Jamboree in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. George also played with Jim and Jesse McReynolds, and later he joined a band with Hope Jenkins and played in Asheville for a couple years.
When George returned home to Burke County, he got a call from Carter Stanley asking him to join the Stanley Brothers. He was with the Stanley Brothers for twenty years, playing both bass and guitar. John Write, author of Traveling the High Way Home: Ralph Stanley and the World of Traditional Bluegrass Music, has written that, “For an extended period during the 1960s George Shuffler was such a vital part of the Clinch Mountain Boys that the act might well have been called a trio rather than a duo”
Shuffler developed his signature style of cross-picking guitar while playing with the Stanley Brothers. Ralph and Carter would leave spaces at the end of musical phrases to give them a chance to catch their breath, and George was left to fill in the space. His guitar playing has influenced generations of bluegrass guitar pickers. George also introduced “walking” bass playing to bluegrass music with the Stanley Brothers. “Even today, some twenty years after he left bluegrass, instrumental fans are fascinated by his unique and original cross-picking guitar style and his immediately recognizable four-four or ‘walking,’ bass,” writes John Write.
Following his work with the Stanley Brothers, he performed with Don Reno for a few years and then he formed the Shuffler Family Band, which played bluegrass gospel. That group toured extensively and recorded a number of albums. In 2007, Shuffler received the North Carolina Heritage Award, his home state’s highest recognition for traditional artists.
(Adapted from a profile originally published in the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area’s Traditional Artist Directory, at http://www.blueridgeheritage.com/traditional-artist-directory/george-shuffler)