Earl Scruggs, one of the most influential artists in modern American country music, died this morning in Nashville, aged 88.
During the mid-twentieth century, Scruggs’ syncopated, three-fingered picking style (today known simply as Scruggs Style) reinvigorated banjo playing, leading the man from Shelby, North Carolina to become a major pioneer of bluegrass and modern country-Western music.
Scruggs and his innovative, hard-driving style shot to prominence after he was hired by Bill Monroe to play banjo in his Blue Grass Boys band in 1945. From the group he met Lester Flatt, with whom he would start a new band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, later known as Flatt and Scruggs. Their departure would cause Monroe to refuse to talk to the pair for twenty years.
Flatt and Scruggs’ best known tune would also win them a Grammy Award in 1969. Entitled Foggy Mountain Breakdown and written by Scruggs, the track was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde.
Due to the widespread success and popularity of his three-finger style, Earl Scruggs devised the Earl Scruggs Method, a tutor series which, over the years, has helped thousands of beginners get to grips with the banjo and Scruggs’ playstyle.
Over his long and successful career, Scruggs worked and collaborated with a number of artists including Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Travis Tritt, Elton John, Sting, Steve Martin, Johnny Cash and Billy Bob Thornton amongst many others.
Scruggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside Lester Flatt in 1985, and in 2008, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 50th Grammy Awards.
Beyond his music, Earl Scruggs was one of the few bluegrass or country-Western artists to speak out against Vietnam and support the anti-war movement. On November 15, 1969, Scruggs played his Grammy-winning Foggy Mountain Breakdown as part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.
Enjoy Earl Scruggs performing Foggy Mountain Breakdown Steve Martin on Letterman.
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