Earl Scruggs revolutionized the way we play and appreciate the banjo today.
Scruggs, who was born 95 years ago this month, developed his own three-finger method of picking the five-string banjo – a style so radical it’s now widely referred to as “Scruggs style.” His style, which features picks attached to the thumb, index finger and middle finger, has become a defining characteristic of bluegrass music and the most popular style of playing banjo in the genre.
Google dedicated an animated Doodle to Scruggs on Friday, highlighting his radically different style, which helped elevate the status of the instrument from a background instrument to one that now commands the spotlight.
Scruggs was born in North Carolina on January 6, 1924, to a family that played music when not farming. After his father died when Scruggs was four, the young boy seemed to find solace by practicing the banjo when he wasn’t in school or doing his farm chores. His first radio performance was at the age of 11.
When Scruggs was 21, he joined the Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys band, which helped coin the term “bluegrass” and popularize it as a distinct genre of country music. During this time, he met vocalist and guitarist Lester Flat, with whom he would form the Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1948.
The Coen brothers paid homage to the band in the 2000 film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? by naming the movie’s rag tag band The Soggy Bottom Boys.
The duo spent more than two decades together, recording more than 50 albums before breaking up in 1969. In 1962, they recorded The Ballad of Jed Clampett, the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies, and Scrugg’s 1949 instrumental Foggy Mountain Breakdown became a hit with a younger generation when it was featured on the soundtrack of the 1967 classic film Bonnie and Clyde.
During his diverse career, Scruggs played with artists as varied as Bob Dylan and sitarist Ravi Shankar, and his contribution to music didn’t go unrecognized in his lifetime. He received four Grammy awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and National Medal of Arts. He was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
Google Doodles typically recognize individuals on their birthday or anniversaries of noteworthy moments in their life. But Scruggs, who died in 2012 at the age of 88, isn’t being recognized by Google for either of those things.
Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Earl Scruggs Center, a 10,000-square-foot facility in Shelby, North Carolina. Reflecting his influence on today’s generation of musicians, the sold-out concert opening the center five years ago featured Vince Gill, Travis Tritt and Sam Bush, among others.
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