Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Earl Scruggs, perhaps the greatest banjo picker in the history of bluegrass, is dead.

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Scruggs, 88, apparently died yesterday in a Nashville hospital.

To people my age, North Carolina native Scruggs, and longtime partner Lester Flatt, were bluegrass music in the 1960s. More so than Bill Monroe or The Stanley Brothers. They brought bluegrass to living rooms all over the country every week playing the Beverly Hillbillys' theme song. (Sometimes Earl and Lester even played themselves in epsiodes.)

And later, they brought bluegrass to the Top 40 with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from the movie Bonnie & Clyde.

Both Flatt, who died in 1979,  and Scruggs started out with Monroe's Bluegrass Boys back in the '40s when Monroe was in the process of inventing bluegrass. Scruggs is credited for introducing his 3-finger style of picking, transferring the banjo from a rhythm instrument into a lead instrument.

He and Flatt left Monroe in 1948 establishing their Foggy Mountain Boys as a premier bluegrass act. They parted ways in 1969.

By some accounts, politics divided them. Scruggs appeared in 1969 at an anti-Vietnam war rally in Washington, D.C. Flatt, as were most most country and bluegrass artists at the time, was a supporter of the war.

U.S.A Today in its obituary noted,

"... when staunch fans of bluegrass — a genre that would not exist in a recognizable form without Scruggs' banjo — railed against stylistic experimentation, Scruggs happily jammed away with sax player King Curtis, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, piano man Elton John and anyone else whose music he fancied. 

"He was the man who melted walls, and he did it without saying three words," said his friend and acolyte Marty Stuart in 2000.

But it was in pure bluegrass where Scruggs excelled. Just last week laid up in my own hospital bed, I watched a couple of episodes on the Old Flatt & Scruggs Grand Old Opry tv show, which is offered on Netflix's streaming service. For that hour, I forgot all about what ailed me.

Rest in peace, Earl.

Here's some videos:


Here they are with "Little Ricly" (Skaggs!)

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