Dead, Earl Eugene Scruggs on March 28, 2012 at 88, he was an American musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a three-finger banjo-picking style (now called “Scruggs style”) that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music.
Scruggs was born and grew up in the Flint Hill community in Cleveland County, North Carolina, to Georgia Lula Ruppe and George Elam Scruggs, a farmer and bookkeeper on January 6, 1924, who played banjo and died when Scruggs was four years old.
His older brothers, Junie and Horace, plus his two older sisters, Eula Mae and Ruby, all played banjo and guitar.
On September 24, 1962, singer Jerry Scoggins, Lester Flatt, and Scruggs recorded “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, which was released October 12, 1962.
The theme song became an immediate country music hit and was played at the beginning and end of each episode.
Flatt and Scruggs appeared in several episodes as family friends of the Clampetts in the following years.
In their first appearance (season 1 episode 20), they portray themselves in the show and perform the theme song and “Pearl, Pearl, Pearl”.
Flatt and Scruggs won a Grammy Award in 1969 for Scruggs’ instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”.
They were inducted together into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.
In 1989, Scruggs was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship. He was an inaugural inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991.
In 1992, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
In 1994, Scruggs teamed up with Randy Scruggs and Doc Watson to contribute the song “Keep on the Sunny Side” to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization.
In 2002 Scruggs won a second Grammy award for the 2001 recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, which featured artists such as Steve Martin on 2nd banjo solo (Martin played the banjo tune on his 1970s stand-up comic acts), Vince Gill and Albert Lee on electric guitar solos, Paul Shaffer on piano, Leon Russell on organ, and Marty Stuart on mandolin.
When Earl was growing up, he spent most of his spare time playing the banjo.
Since his father was not around, and he was deprived of fatherly companionship, his emotional outlet was in the music he loved.
Then, too, there was nothing much for a young boy on a farm to do except work in those depression ravaged days.
Whatever enjoyment he had, he found it playing the banjo.
The family did not have a radio until he was in his teens.
What he learned was self taught. The area where Earl grew up spawned a number of banjo players; some played in the two finger style and some utilized the three finger style.
This banjo picking style originated around a small area where Earl grew up and was not heard in any other part of the country except in that general region of North Carolina.
He relates the incident on how he developed the three finger style that was later to bear his name. He and his brother had been into an argument and Earl went into his room and closed the door.
He was playing a tune on the banjo titled “Ruben.” He was subconsciously picking when he suddenly realized he was using three fingers rather than the usual two– the thumb, index and middle finger.
He had been trying to play with three fingers and had not been able to do so.