Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Earl Scruggs Jan. 6, 1924 - March 28, 2012 Banjo Picker of Memorable Tunes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Earl Scruggs Jan. 6, 1924 - March 28, 2012 Banjo Picker of Memorable Tunes

Article excerpt

Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced a generation of players and helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music, died Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. He was 88.

His son, Gary, said his father died at a hospital of natural causes.

Mr. Scruggs was probably best known for performing alongside the guitar-playing Lester Flatt with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Among their signature songs were "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde," and the "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," which served as the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies." Flatt died in 1979.

Mr. Scruggs began developing his picking style at an early age. Born on a North Carolina farm to a large family of musicians, He took up the banjo at age 4, about the time his father, who also played the banjo, died. He also learned to play guitar, modeling his style after Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family.

With little else to do but chores on a Depression-era farm, he became obsessed with the banjo. He depended mainly on a two- fingered picking style until he was about 10. Then one day, alone in his bedroom and brooding about an argument he had just had with an older brother, he found himself picking a song called "Lonesome Reuben" (or "Reuben's Train") using three fingers instead of two -- the thumb, index and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to get the hang of.

By tuning his banjo in different keys, he found he could play any tune.

The technique lent a harder edge to the bluegrass sound -- named after Bill Monroe's band, the Blue Grass Boys.

Earl Eugene Scruggs was born Jan. 6, 1924, in Flint Hill, near Shelby, N.C., to George Elam Scruggs, a farmer and bookkeeper, and the former Georgia Lula Ruppe, who played the pump organ in church. …

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