George Shuffler grew up in Burke County where he taught himself to play guitar on a mail-order guitar, and he played 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 acclaimed 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 eighteen, 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. The band played a style of pre-bluegrass mountain music before Earl Scruggs and Don Reno introduced the three-finger banjo picking we now associate with bluegrass. 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. 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 played with the Stanley Brothers for twenty years playing both bass and guitar. “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,” writes John Write in Traveling the High Way Home: Ralph Stanley and the World of Traditional Bluegrass Music.
While playing with the Stanley Brothers, he developed a style of cross picking guitar that has become very influential. 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. George said he developed his unique style of cross picking out of necessity to fill in these spaces. 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 his later years, George recorded an album with banjo player and singer Laura Boosinger, and the two played a number of performances.
In this extended 2004 interview, archived in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum Oral History Collection, George Shuffler talks about learning to play, his North Carolina roots, and his career in music.
George Shuffler passed away on April 7th, 2014 at the age of eighty-eight.