Friday, March 30, 2012

R.I.P. Earl Scruggs (1924 - 2012)

Earl Scruggs and Friends* play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"

None of us will live forever;  and yet the loss of a great musician and human being is still very sad.  Earl Scruggs was a legend who helped define bluegrass music.  He died Wednesday of natural causes; he was 88 years old.  As fellow musician, Bela Fleck, said: “When Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's [band] his playing propelled bluegrass to the level that we're still talking about it today. … His soulful quality came though.  It transcended the music.”
As Fleck explained, Earl Scruggs had great taste and technique.  He became known for “playing the banjo, using three fingers in a rotating fashion to create a fast rippling sound that had never been heard before.”  By alternating two finger picks and a thumb pick, "he could play as fast as he wanted.  This was an incredible leap.”

In addition to being a music pioneer and virtuoso “Banjoman,” Scruggs had great personal integrity, becoming one of the few bluegrass, or country artists to give public support to end the Vietnam War by playing his Grammy Award winning composition, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown" at a 1969 anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.  There is footage of the trip, as well as, his thoughts about the demonstration here.

He leaves behind three musician sons, Randy, Gary and Stevie, who held their own, while frequently sharing the stage with their famous father.  R.I.P. Mr. Earl Scruggs.

Playing in the top video are:
*Earl Scruggs-banjo, Glen Duncan-fiddle, Randy Scruggs-acoustic guitar, Steve Martin-2nd banjo solo,  Vince Gill-1st electric guitar solo, Marty Stuart-mandolin, Gary Scruggs-harmonica, Albert Lee-2nd electric guitar solo, Paul Shaffer-piano, Jerry Douglas-dobro, Leon Russell-organ, Glenn Worf-bass, Harry Stinson-drums

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  1. Great post, Debbie. I have my bluegrass moments, including when I listened to Western Kentucky regional program on WSM, on a car radio, on a Sunday night last month. Much of the music that you hear incorporates the banjo style that started with Foggy Mountain Breakdown. RIP

  2. @ Barry: You get that station on the East Coast?

  3. Hello Debbie (and others). WSM is the kingpin of country music radio. The BBB=Region (Western Kentucky promotion agency, is a sponsor of the show on Sunday evenings. In this case, I was in North Carolina and could get it on the AM car radio (out in the country near Pittsboro/Sanford/Chapel Hill area) on 650 kHz. But from New York City it's not possible, because of huge station on 660 kHz which drowns it out. New York suburbs maybe 1 out of 10 attempts I can get it. But in this internet age- go to and you can get a live feed and links to various programs. But to the point of this whole thread- most of the bluegrass music that I like is based on the Flatt - Scruggs style of picking and their influence on a whole genre of music should be much celebrated, as you did with your excellent blog post re Earl Scruggs. With Native New Yawkahs like me seeking out such music, his legacy will live on.

  4. @ Barry: You're proof of what many people, including my father, said, "There are just two kinds of music, good and bad."

    Thank you for adding terrific info to the post.