Foggy Mountain Breakdown: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs

Country Music Hall of Famer Earl Scruggs a singular talent of collective impact, died Wednesday morning at a Nashville hospital. He was 88 and died of natural causes.

A quietly affable presence, Mr. Scruggs popularized a complex, three-fingered style of playing banjo that transformed the instrument, inspired nearly every banjo player who followed him and became a central element in what is now known as bluegrass music.

But Mr. Scruggs’ legacy is in no way limited to or defined by bluegrass, a genre that he and partner Lester Flattdominated as Flatt and Scrubbs in the 1950s and ’60s: his adaptability and open-minded approach to musicality and to collaboration made him a bridge between genres and generations.

Rather than speak out about the connections between folk and country in the war-torn, politically contentious ’60s, he simply showed up at folk festivals and played, at least when he and Flatt weren’t at the Grand Ole Opry. During the long-hair/short-hair skirmishes of the ’60s and ’70s, he simply showed up and played, withBob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Birds. And when staunch fans of bluegrass — a genre that would not exist in a recognizable form without Mr. Scruggs’ banjo — railed against stylistic experimentation, Mr. Scruggs happily jammed away with sax player King Curtis, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, piano man Elton John and anyone else whose music he fancied.

“He was the man who melted walls, and he did it without saying three words,” said his friend and acolyte Marty Stuart in 2000.

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3 Comments on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs”

  1. Bob Says:

    Although I am not a fan of country music, Earl Scruggs on the banjo was always a treat. I am saddened to learn of his passing. Eighty eight is a nice long number for a life well lived. RIP Earl.

    • katry Says:

      I am also not a fan of country music but I’m okay with some bluegrass as long as it’s not too twangy. The banjo is a wonderfully sounding instrument, and it was Earl’s I first heard. .

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