Bluegrass Legend Earl Scruggs Dead at 88

Posted March 29th, 2012 at 2:00 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

American bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs, whose unique banjo-playing style helped shape modern country music, has died.

The 88-year-old Scruggs died Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee — known as the country music capital of the world. His son, Gary, said he died of natural causes.

Friends and fans paid tribute to Scruggs Thursday and flowers were to be placed on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A four-time Grammy Award winner, Scruggs originated the three-finger style of picking the five-string banjo, an American instrument. His “Scruggs style” helped popularize the instrument beyond bluegrass and country music.

The host of Voice of America's music program Roots and Branches, Katherine Cole, says it is “impossible to overstate how important Earl Scruggs was to American music.” She says that few musicians have changed the way an instrument is played and heard the way Scruggs did.

In 1945, he joined bandleader Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys — which established the genre — and wowed listeners on the Grand Ole Opry radio program broadcast from Nashville.

The marketing director for the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Kentucky, Danny Clark, says Earl Scruggs transformed bluegrass.

“Bluegrass music, it was completely different before Earl Scruggs came on board. I mean, if you look back in the history books, in December of 1945, when Bill Monroe hired Earl Scruggs to play in his band, the Blue Grass Boys, that addition of Earl Scruggs to what is now referred to as the 'classic' band, it just completely revolutionized bluegrass music, the way it's heard. That sound, that three-finger style that he helped pioneer and broadcast to the masses had never been heard before, and that addition to Bill Monroe's band just completely changed that form of American music.”

Later, Scruggs partnered with Blue Grass Boys guitarist and lead vocalist Lester Flatt to form their own band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Flatt and Scruggs rose to fame with the theme song for the 1960s television series The Beverly Hillbillies, known as “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.” The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde also featured their work, with their song “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” used in the movie's chase scenes.