Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass great, died on Wednesday at the age of 88. A pioneering banjo player who helped create modern country music, his sound is instantly recognizable and as intrinsically wrapped in the tapestry of the genre as Johnny Cash’s baritone or Hank Williams’ heartbreak. His string-bending, mind-blowing way of picking helped transform a regional sound into a national passion.
Scruggs was born in Shelby, North Carolina, in 1924. He was a self-taught musician who shot to prominence after he joined the Blue Grass Boys in late 1945, quickly popularizing his syncopated, three-finger picking style. In 1948 he and guitarist Lester Flatt left the Blue Grass Boys and formed the Foggy Mountain Boys, later known simply as Flatt and Scruggs. They won a Grammy Award in 1969 for Scruggs’ instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. He would go on to win three more Grammys: for “Same Old Train” (1998), a new version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (2001) — featuring artists such as Steve Martin, Vince Gill and Albert Lee — and for “Earl’s Breakdown” (2004).
Here are some of the banjoist’s best songs:
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs — ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ (Original 1949)
Considered one of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded, the 1949 rendition was used in the movie Bonnie and Clyde, then re-recorded after the film.
Beverly Hillbillies Theme Song
Scruggs, Flatt and singer Jerry Scoggins recorded “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the television show The Beverly Hillbillies in 1962. It became an immediate country hit. Scruggs and Flatt appeared in several episodes as family friends of the Clampetts.
Earl Scruggs and Steve Martin — ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’
Scruggs won his fourth Grammy for the recording in 2001.
(MORE: All-TIME 100 Songs)
With The Associated Press