Banjo picker Earl Scruggs has died of natural causes at age 88.
His use of three fingers rather than the clawhammer style elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or a comedian’s prop — to a lead instrument.His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as “the Scruggs picking style.” It was perhaps most prominently displayed on the iconic theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
This is from the Camp Springs Bluegrass Festival in 1971. Fascinating how many of the pickers just play it straight instead of trading licks or getting fancy. Maybe it’s a tribute to the master there right in front of them, or maybe when you’re playing the most famous banjo lick of all time, it just doesn’t get any better. The guy at the 3:05 mark (Jim Henson, right?) finally breaks through.
Scruggs was best known for his work with guitarist Lester Flatt, but first became famous when he joined the band of the bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe in 1945. Flatt was also a member of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, but the pair left in 1948 to form the Foggy Mountain Boys, later changing the name to simply Flatt and Scruggs. The pair played together for 21 years until 1969. Monroe was so furious at their departure from his band that he refused to speak to them for 20 years.