Nashville, TN – Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs died Wednesday morning at a Nashville hospital. Scruggs helped profoundly change country music with Bill Monroe in the 1940s and later with guitarist Lester Flatt. Scruggs was 88 years old.
Earl Scruggs was an innovator who pioneered the modern banjo sound. He used a three finger grip to raise the banjo out of the background of songs to a major instrument in country music. His String bending and lead runs became known at the “Scruggs Picking Style”. Without his innovative style the banjo would not be as popular in all forms of music like it is today.
In a July 2010 interview, Scruggs spoke about his preference for the banjo saying,
“I played guitar as much as I did the banjo, but for everyday picking I’d go back to the banjo. It just fit what I wanted to hear better than what I could do with the guitar.”
Scruggs was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame with Lester Flatt, whom he had a major falling out with.
“It wasn’t a bad feeling toward each other as much as it was that I felt I was depriving myself of something. By that, I mean that I love bluegrass music, and I still like to play it, but I do like to mix in some other music for my own personal satisfaction, because if I don’t, I can get a little bogged down and a little depressed.”
In 2005, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of works of unusual merit. The following year, the 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band record “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” on which Scruggs was one of many famous guest performers, joined the list, too.
In 1996, Scruggs suffered a heart attack while recovering from hip replacement surgery. He also had some health issues this year but that didn’t stop him from performing at an amazing pace.
In 2001 he released a CD, “Earl Scruggs and Friends,” his first album in a decade, he collaborated with Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Vince Gill, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Johnny Cash and actor Steve Martin.
Scruggs’ wife of 57 years died in 2006. He is survived by his three sons.
Watch a video of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.