Oct 3, 2009
Born on January 6, 1924 in Flint Hill, North Carolina
Earl Scruggs created the defining sound of bluegrass with his three-finger or Scruggs-style playing on the banjo. This style, where the fingers “roll” over the strings, contrasts with the claw-hammer and strumming styles that dominated banjo playing prior to Scruggs.
Earl Scruggs developed this defining sound of bluegrass as a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Scruggs joined this group at the end of 1945; also in that group was guitarist and lead singer Lester Flatt. Flatt and Scruggs left Monroe in 1948 and formed the “Foggy Mountain Boys” and during the 1950s and 1960s were responsible for popularizing bluegrass through their concerts at colleges and their hit single, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which was the theme song for the CBS network television show, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Scruggs grew up near Gastonia, North Carolina and worked on a farm and in the textile mills there, helping to support his widowed mother. In 1939 he performed with a band comprised of his brothers; as a teenager he was a banjo prodigy and appeared on radio with the the Carolina Wildcats and Wiley and Zeke Morris, the Morris Brothers. He performed with “Lost” John Miller and the Allied Kentuckians on WNOX in Knoxville and WSM in Nashville until Miller decided to quit touring. Stranded in Nashville, Bill Monroe needed to replace Stringbean, who had just left the band. Scruggs was recommended to Monroe by fiddler and band member Jim Shumate, who knew Scruggs from North Carolina,
After leaving Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs were on WCBY in Bristol, Tennessee and signed with Mercury Records; in 1950 they signed with Columbia. In 1955, dobro player Josh Graves joined Flatt and Scruggs and the sound of that band departed significantly from Monroe’s bluegrass sound. Also in 1955 they joined the Grand Ole Opry, sponsored by Martha White Flour, which had sponsored them on WSM since 1953. During the late 1950s and early 1960s they starred in a popular, syndicated television show.
Scruggs developed the “Scruggs peg,” which allowed him to change the tuning of the banjo strings while playing and his recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” originally recorded in 1949, was the theme song for the movie Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.
Flatt and Scruggs broke up in 1969 and Earl started the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons Gary (bass and lead vocals) and Randy (guitar); other members of the original group were Bob Wilson, piano and Jody Maphis, drums. Later, Scruggs’ son, Steve, joined the group as did fiddler Vassar Clements and dobro player Josh Graves.
Scruggs’ wife, the former Louise Cirtain, played a major role in managing and booking Scrugg’s career, which extended beyond the traditional bluegrass and country audiences to college audiences and folk music enthusiasts.
In 1980 Scruggs retired from regular touring because of persistent back problems, although he has continued to perform selected dates since that time.