Country Music Hall of Fame member and former Grand Ole Opry member Earl Scruggs passed away earlier this morning at the age of 88. His son Gary said that he died of natural causes.
Earl Scruggs was born in Flint Hill, North Carolina on January 6, 1924. He, along with Lester Flatt, formed the Foggy Mountain Boys, and they did much to popularize bluegrass music. Their sound became widely recognized in the 1960s through their recording of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" the theme for the network television show, "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Earl grew up in a rural farm home and spend time working in the textile mills before becoming a full time musician. By the time he was a teen, he had developed a distinctive banjo style that enabled him to play a broad variety of music with speed and clarity. He met Lester Flatt in 1945, when he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, and became a part of the most influential line up in history, which included Chubby Wise and Cedric Rainwater. In 1948, Flatt and Scruggs left Bill Monroe's band and formed their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys. They started out working in various areas of Tennessee and in 1950 they signed with Columbia Records.
In 1953 Martha White started sponsoring their shows, including an early morning radio program on WSM in Nashville. Two years later, dispite the objections of Bill Monroe, they became members of the Grand Ole Opry. During the late 1950s and 1960s, their syndicated television show was seen throughout the Southeast and drew millions of viewers. Later, they took their music to new audiences through television and appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and at various folk clubs and college auditoriums. In 1967, their recording of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was used in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde."
In 1969, musical and personal differences caused Flatt & Scruggs to split. Lester wanted to stay with a more traditional bluegrass sound, while Earl wanted to be more progressive and to travel and play with his sons. Earl formed the Earl Scruggs review, and stayed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry for a short period of time. In 1985, Earl, along with Lester, were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Earl is considered one of the most influential musicians in the history of bluegrass music and he recorded with just about everyone. It is appropriate that Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, who were both followers of Earl are scheduled to be on the Opry this weekend. And although Earl gave up his Opry membership long ago, he still performed on the show. I had the pleasure of seeing him several years ago and he was outstanding as usual.
Prayers and thoughts go to his family.