Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Earl Scruggs Dies At Age 88

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.


  1. Earl stayed as an Opry member for about five years, and I always looked forward to his returns. He didn't invent the banjo, of course, but he created it as we know it today.

    One of my favorite memories is the night he went into the Hall of Fame. As Chet Atkins announced, "Lester Flatt," the director cut to Earl, who got a little grin, and then Chet said, "And Earl Scruggs," and Earl just went totally blank. My mother the country music nut (I consider myself one too) said she'd never in her life seen anyone whose face went so completely blank. But it was for good reason!

  2. Fred here:

    A real pioneer and music-changer who richly deserves all the honors that came his way over his long life.

    The last 10-15 years I have come to view the Scruggs style with mixed emotions. It sure changed Bill Monroe's music and blew away the old clawhammer-style banjo in most stringband groups. To me it has a way of "taking over" and making every faster-paced number sound alike, which is why I prefer "old-time" to bluegrass in my old age.

    But that's just me and not most folks. The very first 12-inch LP I ever bought was by Lester and Earl; all honor to them.

  3. Another legend gone.I like Earl's way of playing the banjo,but I also like the clawhammer style too.You can bet ole Earl & Lester are playing up a storm in heaven.

  4. Johnny, there's room for both! The night Earl arrived, supposedly, Uncle Dave Macon, the master of the clawhammer, watched him and said, "Ernest, you ain't one damn bit funny."

    Marty Stuart told the story that when Lester was dying, Bob Dylan told Marty that Abbott and Costello, who had similarly broken up unpleasantly, meant to get back together and never did. Marty went to the phone, called Earl, and went to see him. Earl went to see Lester, who talked about them performing again. Earl said they would, but the first thing was for Lester to get well and get out of the hospital. Of course he didn't. But yes, they are performing together again. And Paul Warren and Uncle Josh and Cousin Jake are feeling like the band is complete.

  5. I was looking at all the country music duos and how long they were seperated by death.Earl & Lester--33 years,Wilma Lee & Stoney--34 years.the Louvin Brothers--46 years.Who holds the record for longest seperation by death? It was the Davis Sisters[ Betty Jack in 1953 & Skeeter in 2004] that's 51 years.Ralph & Carter Stanley's been seperated by death for 46 years and counting.Lonzo Sullivan & brother Oscar have been seperated by death for 45 years and counting.

  6. Johnny: Another notable pair are Jack Anglin and Johnnie Wright, 48 years. -- Fred

  7. If you want to include this comedy pair;Rod Brasfield [d.1958] & Minnie Pearl [d.1996] that's almost 48 years.

  8. Earl,sure put attention on the Banjo. Earl's 3-finger pickin',woke up America. Wade Mainer, a 2-finger picker inventor died at age 104,last Sept.2011. And coincidentally, Wade, and Earl, were both born/raised in North Carolina.
    R.I.P. Earl Scruggs

  9. Rooster, clearly, there's something in that North Carolina water!

    It's nice to see that Earl is getting the flowers he so richly deserved. If you go to and type in his name, you can see a lot of reports.

  10. If you count this comedy pair;Rod Brasfield [d.1958] & Minnie Pearl [d.1996] that's 47 years 6 months.

  11. Thank you Earl & Lester for great bluegrass.

  12. You are right, Michael; I think this is the biggest country-music sendoff since Johnny Cash. This, of course, is a vindication of sorts for those of us who blog here. I remember when E.T. died, in 1984: I made a point of channel jumping so I made the three national telecasts (of those days), and was so gratified when ALL THREE not only had the news but musical clips of the Great One. -- Fred