As you might have read, banjo wizard Earl Scruggs died recently at age 88. Although he is often remembered as part of the Grammy-winning duo Flatt & Scruggs, his career flourished for over four decades after the twosome split in 1969. Along the way he became one of the most admired and influential musicians in the history of American music.
Earl Eugene Scruggs grew up in Depression-era North Carolina, and picked up his first banjo – his late father’s – while still a child. By the time he’d grown up and was working professionally he had taught himself to make magic, not only by his mastery of the instrument but also by perfecting the three-finger style that would become his trademark.
Scruggs first rose to fame in the mid-1940s as part of Bill Monroe’s seminal group, the Blue Grass Boys. Within a few years, he and singer/guitarist Lester Flatt left to form their own act, a move that would cause the feisty Monroe to shun them for many years. But the twosome and their group, the Foggy Mountain Boys, did well for two decades, turning out hits like “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” and Grammy winner “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (which would win another Grammy for Scruggs many years later, when he re-recorded it).
Flatt was a traditionalist and Scruggs was more progressive, and that difference in musical philosophy eventually led to the partners’ breakup. But over the last four decades of his life, Scruggs found success by exploring many different avenues for his music, often working with his sons in The Earl Scruggs Revue and also collaborating with a number of the biggest stars around. Among them were Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, Doc Watson, John Fogerty, Elton John, Sting, and actor/musician Steve Martin.
He was awarded countless honors through the years, and is universally recognized as a true pioneer of American music. He will be missed but his legacy is secure.
Earl Scruggs – “In The Gloryland”