Earl Scruggs 1924 – 2012
Earl Scruggs passed away late last week at the age of 88. I’ve read a few articles about his passing which of course mention Foggy Mountain Breakdown and the Theme to The Beverly Hillbillies, but his musical legacy was so much more.
An Inspiration and Teacher
Earl Scruggs was a great inspiration to myself and thousands of other banjo pickers. His book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo remains a great resource for anyone interested in learning to play the banjo.
I was fortunate to see Earl Scruggs play twice, once in Ohio and again later in North Carolina where I got to briefly meet the master Earl Scruggs. He leaves behind an incredible musical legacy.
Earl Scruggs’ Musical Legacy
Picking the three-finger style that came to be known “Scruggs-style” banjo playing, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe essentially defined the music style known as bluegrass during the years Scruggs played with Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. After leaving Bill Monroe, Scruggs and Lester Flatt formed Flatt & Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys and made many great traditional bluegrass recordings.
Despite helping invent what would become the traditional style, Earl was not a traditionalist. Eventually Flatt and Scruggs parted ways and Earl formed a band with his sons entitled The Earl Scruggs Revue which pushed the envelope a bit by incorporating folk and rock sounds. In his later years, he toured occasionally with a group known as Earl Scruggs and Friends. Before Bill Monroe passed away, Earl reunited with him to make one of my favorite recordings, Sally Goodin’.
Recommended Earl Scruggs Recordings
Here are some of my other favorite and highly recommended Earl Scruggs songs and recordings:
The The Essential Earl Scruggs double album starts off with a few songs Earl recorded with Bill Monroe including Heavy Traffic Ahead, It’s Mighty Dark to Travel, and Molly and Tenbrooks (The Race Horse Song). The album also includes my favorite Flatt & Scruggs banjo tunes:
- Pike County Breakdown
- Foggy Mountain Breakdown
- Earl’s Breakdown
- Foggy Mountain Special
- Dear Old Dixie
The Essential Earl Scruggs album also contains some Earl Scruggs Revue material including I Shall Be Released, but my favorite available collection of Earl Scruggs Revue songs is the Live! from Austin City Limits album. The Live from Austin City Limits album contains some other goodies such as The Swimming Song and Black Mountain Blues.
While Earl will rightly be remembered for his banjo picking, he was also a great fingerpicking guitarist with a unique sound. God Loves His Children and I’m Going to Make Heaven My Homeare two Flatt & Scruggs gospel tunes which showcase Earl’s style on guitar.