Today marks the day we lost one of the most important figures in country music, bluegrass, in particular – Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass is one of the first played country music. Earl Scruggs truly was a pioneer and helped mold bluegrass into the popular genre that it is today. His impact is immeasurable and his legacy will live on through the musicians he has influenced for a long time.
Let us look back on some of his famous works and accomplishments.
Bluegrass Pioneer, Indeed
Scruggs, who had played banjo since the age of 4 in rural North Carolina, got his big break when he joined Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, in 1945. The band included Monroe, who sang and played the mandolin; Lester Flatt on guitar; Howard Watts on bass; and Chubby Wise on fiddle. He helped shape the high, lonesome sound of Bill Monroe and pioneered modern banjo playing. When Mr. Scruggs stepped up to play during an instrumental segment, listeners would come out of their seats in excitement. Mr. Scruggs stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for two years as they excelled on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show. They recorded classics like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Blue Grass Breakdown” and “Molly and Tenbrooks”, for Columbia Records. He also sang baritone in the gospel quartet group.
In 1948, he and Mr. Flatt, drained of the low pay and strenuous travel, decided to strike out on their own, despite Monroe’s plea for them to stay. Angry and hurt, Monroe did not speak to them for the next 20 years, an argument that became famous in country-music history. He is best known for his partnership with Lester Flatt and their signature hit “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song of the Sixties sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Without any doubt, Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose ultimate picking style inspired generations of musicians and helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music with his guitar-strumming partner, Lester Flatt.
Scruggs received the National Medal of Arts in 1992. His recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2005.
His Legacy Will Never Be Forgotten
Sadly, Earl Scruggs, the virtuoso banjo player, died on March 28, 2012, at the age of 88. According to his son, Gary Scruggs, he died of natural causes. It is really hard to include all that Scruggs did for country and bluegrass music in just a single story. His inventive use of three fingers in an up-picking style, rather than the mostly two-fingered claw-hammer down-picking technique rightly made him a legend. His legacy as a pioneer bluegrass musician will never be forgotten.
As Porter Wagoner said in 2004,
“He is the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be.”
The video below shows Earl Scruggs playing with fellow country artists – how exceptional he was and ever will. Years may have passed since we last heard him play, but his music remains in our hearts.