George Shuffler was born April 11, 1925 in Valdese, North Carolina to a large musical family. When he expressed interest in the guitar at age ten, his father traded an old broken down car for a Kalamazoo guitar. He also attended singing schools at church where he learned to read shaped notes. Some of his early inspiration came from listening to Merle Travis, the Delmore Brothers and the Sons of the Pioneers on the radio. He taught himself to play in the fashion of Travis and Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family. At the age of 17, he was offered a job playing bass for the Bailey Brothers, and appeared with them on the Grand Ole Opry that same year. On December 28, 1950, Carter Stanley called and asked him to join the Stanley Brothers as bass player. His “walking style” of bass playing, introduced on the Stanley brothers’ 1953 Mercury Recordings, would imprint itself on a number of younger players, including Hall of Fame member Tom Gray.
Throughout the 1950s, Shuffler was primarily a bass player, but as times grew lean, the Stanley Brothers often could only afford to work as a trio. In order to enhance their sound, Shuffler switched from the bass to guitar, and developed a style that changed the guitar from a side or rhythm instrument into a key component of bluegrass music. Inspired by Bill Napier, Shuffler perfected what would become his signature style of cross-picking in order to provide a fuller sounding guitar that could play the melody and also keep the rhythm. It was during this time that Shuffler came to be affectionately known as the “third Stanley Brother”. Following Carter Stanley’s death on December 1, 1966, Shuffler continued on with Ralph for several months to help him re-establish the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Shuffler worked with Don Reno and Bill Harrell until 1969, recording several albums with them on bass. In the early 1970s, he left the road to be at home with his beloved wife and children, only to begin new chapters of his musical career. For 22 years, he traveled and recorded with members of his family singing southern gospel music. He also enjoyed guesting at various bluegrass festivals throughout the southeast, returning each year at Ralph Stanley’s request to play at the annual Hills of Home Festival in Virginia.
He was often on the lineup at MerleFest, as well as the annual IBMA FanFest. He recorded several albums showcasing his exceptional guitar and bass playing, and especially enjoyed recording “The Legacy Continues” with his protégé, the late James Alan Shelton, as well as Mountain Treasures, with his good friend and occasional musical partner, Asheville-based Laura Boosinger.
In 1996 Shuffler was awarded the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award. He was a 2007 recipient of the North Carolina Heritage award, and in 2011 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013.
The imprints George Shuffler left on bluegrass music are legendary. He was a tremendously gifted artist who loved the music and its people; however, he was first and foremost a Christian family man who loved being home more than anything. He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family, on April 7, 2014, just four days shy of his 89th birthday.