The Strugglers started in a south of Broad Ripple house in 1970 and did not break up until one of the members moved out of town in 1985. The band had the same basic lineup for most of that time: Scott Ballantine (guitar), Jack Clarke (harmonica), Kevin Hughey (drums), Dave Langfitt (pedal steel), Joe Langfitt (bass) and Stanley Smith (clarinet and vocals).
Ballantine remembers, “The Strugglers played everywhere there was to play — we were on the bill with Les McCann the first weekend the Vogue was open. We played the Patio, Crazy Al’s [and] Caesars’ Pub [later the Stone Mug],” he says. “All said we were really a creature of the Hummingbird and played there a lot — [having] warmed up for Mose Allison, Newgrass Revival, the Dillards, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, Townes Van Zandt and many more sort of famous people. We once played a stint at the Patio for a year straight [six nights a week] when Gordon Atchinson owned it. Dave Letterman was a big fan and came in late every night after doing the weather on Channel 13.”
Smith’s favorite memories are of the Crazy Al’s gigs. “Sometimes we would play the whole week,” Ballantine says. “Each night would get a little crazier than the last. I have tapes of some of those nights when I’m brave enough to listen. We were a crazy band for those times. We mixed Chicago blues, Western swing, old rare country tunes and some jazz.”
The band members insist they invented newgrass (progressive bluegrass) in 1972 at Union Grove in North Carolina. “Sam Bush won’t admit it, I’m sure, but he stole the whole idea from the lowly brain-addled Strugglers,” Ballantine says.
Ballantine plays several times a week as a solo guitarist with his jazz trio and with several bands (including The ReachArounds and the Amy Lashley Band). He also owns Funhouse Guitars and Records. Clarke works for the Marion County Board of Heath and breaks out the harmonica. Hughey has a picture framing business and still drums. Langfitt also owned Hit City Recording. He sold that to Tim Brickley, and now plays music with Randy King. Langfitt works at the Monroe County Library.
Smith moved to Austin, Texas, and played many years with the Asylum Street Spankers. He is the leader of the Jazz Pharaohs. He has played in all but three states, toured Europe five times, released his first solo album in 2003 and toured Japan. He’s playing a full schedule in Austin.
The band recently reunited for Clarke’s birthday. The show was full of old fans singing along and dancing so hard the floor was moving. The Strugglers still sound fantastic — even 37 years later.