Banjo musician Earl Scruggs dies aged 88


Earl Scruggs was a regular on the Grand Old Opry radio show, including televised specials

Pioneering banjo player Earl Scruggs, who is credited with helping create modern country music, has died aged 88.

The musician died of natural causes at a Nashville hospital on Wednesday, his son Gary said.

Scruggs was known for his unique banjo playing technique, which involved just three fingers. It later became known as "the Scruggs picking style".

His innovative method can be heard on the theme tune to the 1962 series The Beverly Hillbillies.

Scruggs rose to prominence when Bill Monroe hired him to play in the Blue Grass Boys, one of the defining groups in the bluegrass musical genre.

Hollywood actor and fellow banjo player Steve Martin previously paid tribute to Scruggs in the New Yorker magazine.

"When the singer came to the end of a phrase, he filled the theatre with sparkling runs of notes that became a signature for all bluegrass music since," he said.

"A grand part of American music owes a debt to Earl Scruggs. Few players have changed the way we hear an instrument the way Earl has, putting him in a category with Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix."

Musical rift

Scruggs later teamed up with Lester Flatt to form the Foggy Mountain Boys, also known as Flatt and Scruggs.

One of their most well known records included Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which featured in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde.

Earl Scruggs in 1982 Scruggs is best known for playing with Lester Flatt in the Foggy Mountain Boys

It was their recording of The Ballad of Jed Clampett that was used in The Beverly Hillbillies.

They eventually disbanded, and a rift grew between the two musicians, although they were inducted together in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.

Scruggs went on to form a group with his three sons in The Earl Scruggs Revue, playing alongside rock acts such as Steppenwolf and James Taylor.

In 1992, Scruggs was among 13 recipients of a National Medal of Art.

Speaking at the time, he said: "I never in my wildest dreams thought of rewards and presentations. I appreciate those things, especially this one."

In 2001, he released his first album in a decade, Earl Scruggs and Friends, featuring collaborations with other artists including Sir Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Sting and Melissa Etheridge.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I was a major fan of Hendrix and Santana but Scruggs was so appealing that I learned his style, merged it with melodic (not rolls but melodic notes) morphed it into blues in my rock sets on a g-tuned electric. Invigorating! Scruggs was more of an influence in his genre that such greats as Dorsey, SInatra, Beethoven, and Clapton were in theirs. The world was a better place because of him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I had a pal who parked his car and left his banjo on the rear windshield shelf. When he returned to his car the rear windscreen was smashed and there were two banjos there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Sad to hear about this. I started playing the banjo about four years ago and Earl Scruggs was a big part of my musical education. I hope he'd be happy banjo is becoming an increasingly popular instrument and more young people are taking it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Earl Scruggs is one of the few musicians who had an innovative effect on his instrument, as well as his music. By adding "Scruggs pegs" to the head of the banjo, he was able to change the tuning in the middle ofm a song. This "invention" changed the sound of country music.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    In addition to his considerable talent, Earl was willing to buck the Nashville establishment by embracing musicians and styles outside of the traditional genre. In doing so he made banjo and American roots music "cool" for a whole generation of young players. I hope that the current crop of indie revivalists appreciate what they owe to his legacy.


Comments 5 of 31


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