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Earl Scruggs Banjo

March 29, 2012 by staff 

Earl Scruggs Banjo, American music has had a multitude of instrumental innovators whose gifts have influenced not only their chosen instrument and musical genres. Only a few, however, have managed to transcend their instrument, their genre and even the very culture that nurtured them to influence and shape other musical styles and cultures.

Louis Armstrong and Les Paul come to mind immediately. So do Lester Young, Jimi Hendrix and Gene Krupa as well as Chet Atkins, Art Tatum and Earl Eugene Scruggs. Scruggs died Wednesday at 88 in a Nashville hospital ending a remarkable journey that began in rural North Carolina.

He remains the fountainhead of the five-string. Though the instrument was long part of rural American music both black and white, he defined its use in bluegrass and other musical forms in ways that inspired generations of banjoists and other instrumentalists as well. He also played a major role in expanding the popularity of bluegrass, the music created by Bill Monroe. This is “Randy Lynn Rag” from the 50′s, named for one of Earl’s sons. It pretty much explains what I’ll be talking about here.

In that clip you can hear the rolling, easily flowing and melodic style Scruggs created, one that remains timeless, his version of a banjo style popular in the area of North Carolina where he grew up. Elsewhere, five string banjos were classical instruments. Rural musicians both black and white would play in a style known as “clawhammer” or simply strum the strings with the thumb and index finger, as played by Pete Seeger, early Grand Ole Opry pioneer Uncle Dave Macon and the late Grandpa Jones and Stringbean of Hee-Haw fame.

Want to see the difference in styles? You’ve heard Earl. This is Stringbean himself, as a guest on the Flatt and Scruggs syndicated TV show.

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