Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs passed away in Nashville yesterday, at the age of 88. You may know him as the man behind the “Ballad of Jed Clampett,” (from The Beverly Hillbillies) or from “The Foggy Mountain Breakdown” of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde—his bright banjo sounds, the backdrop to the bumping along of the infamous up-to-no-good pair.
Born in North Carolina in 1924, Scruggs became a genre forerunner when he modified his home state’s three-finger pick and adopted a roll and pluck method. He gave a new complexity to the five-string sound. In 1945, Scruggs was an original member of the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Boys (along with Lester Flatt) before the two formed the Foggy Mountain Boys three years later.
His style has influenced generations of musicians. From CBSNews.com:
"Actor and accomplished banjo player Steve Martin called Scruggs, with whom he collaborated in 2001 on 'Earl Scruggs and Friends,' 'the most important banjo player who ever lived.'
Charlie Daniels tweeted, 'He meant a lot to me. Nobody will ever play a five string banjo like Earl.'"
Country music star Dierks Bentley said: "There’s 17- or 18-year-old kids turning on today’s country music and hearing that banjo and they have no idea where that came from. That sound has probably always been there for them and they don’t realize someone invented that three-finger roll style of playing. You hear it everywhere.”
His ingenuity, his joy, and the glad sounds of his powerful picking have influenced generations, and his legacy lives on. Thank you for the music, Earl.