Bluegrass Pioneer Earl Scruggs Gone at Age 88

Earl Eugene Scruggs (January 6, 1924 - March 28, 2012)

NASHVILLE, TN.—Bluegrass legend and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, who helped profoundly change the popular music of his day with Bill Monroe and later with guitarist Lester Flatt, has died. He was 88.

Scruggs' son Gary said his father passed away Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital. Gary Scruggs said his father died of natural causes.

The elder Scruggs was an innovator who pioneered modern banjo sound. His use of three fingers rather than the clawhammer style elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section—or a comedian's prop—to a lead instrument.

His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as "the Scruggs picking style." It was perhaps most prominently displayed on the iconic theme from "The Beverly Hillbillies."
UPDATE:   We’ve just learned from Loudilla Johnson, President of the International Fan Club Organization (IFCO), The family of Earl Scruggs will receive friends during visitation tomorrow (Mar. 30) and Saturday (Mar. 31) between 3–7 p.m. at Spring Hill Funeral Home, 5110 Gallatin Pike, Nashville. Funeral services will be held Sunday, April, 1 at 2 p.m. at the Ryman Auditorium. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville or the Earl Scruggs Center (Destination Cleveland County, The Earl Scruggs Center, P.O. Box 2063, Shelby, NC 28151.

"Some nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his fingertips. Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did, or at least tried." - Steve Martin
"His playing and the audience response sent a chill up my spine." - Eric Gibson
“Earl, your influence is incalculable, & you will be missed.” – Buddy Woodward, Dixie Bee Liners
“Our community has lost another King. RIP Earl.– IBMA
“A very sad day in the Bluegrass world today. Earl will be missed....” – Jamie Dean, Cumberland River Band

Image634685522599080000Earl Scruggs was born and grew up near Shelby, North Carolina in Cleveland County. Located in the Piedmont section of the state, it is an area known for its strongholds of banjo enthusiasm. Earl's father, George Elam Scruggs, was a farmer and a bookkeeper. He also played fiddle and banjo. Earl's older brothers, Junie and Horace, and his two older sisters, Eula Mae and Ruby, played the banjo and guitar. His mother, Lula Ruppe Scruggs played the organ.

Earl began playing the banjo at the age of four using a two finger style picking. "The only way I could pick Junie's banjo, or the old one my father played, was to sit on the floor with the body part of the banjo to my right and slide it around quite a bit, depending on what position on the neck I was attempting to play."

At the age of ten, he developed a style utilizing three fingers that was to become known world-wide as "Scruggs-Style Picking." The banjo was, for all practical purposes, "reborn" as a musical instrument due to the talent and prominence Earl Scruggs gave to the instrument.

The debut of Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys during a post-World War II performance on The Grand Ole Opry is thought of as the "big bang" moment for bluegrass and later 20th century country music. Later, Flatt and Scruggs teamed as a bluegrass act after leaving Monroe from the late 1940s until breaking up in 1969 in a dispute over whether their music should experiment or stick to tradition. Flatt died in 1979.
They were best known for their 1949 recording "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," played in the 1967 movie "Bonnie and Clyde," and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" from "The Beverly Hillbillies," the popular TV series that debuted in 1962. Jerry Scoggins did the singing.

After the breakup, Scruggs used three of his sons in The Earl Scruggs Revue. The group played on bills with rock acts like Steppenwolf and James Taylor. Sometimes they played festivals before 40,000 people.
Louise Scruggs, his wife of 57 years, died in 2006. He is survived by two songs, Gary and Randy. Gary Scruggs says funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Biographical material and photos from the official Earl Scruggs Website:

1 comment:

Steve Leatherwood said...

Truly a pioneer in bluegrass will be missed. Leatherwoods WGWG 88.3FM