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G’bye Earl Scruggs, 1924-2012

Wow. Earl Scruggs died in hospital last night.

Few musician dominate a genre the way Earl utterly pwned bluegrass banjo. He was the undisputed god of three-finger pickers.

After Earl, a thousand imitators. Eventually, there were faster players, there were fancier players, but nobody ever matched his perfect, clean, bell-like clarity of tone. He had an awesome stage presence — calm and genial — and, dammit, he wrote most of the great banjo anthems his own self.

Here, I’ll save you the trouble: a YouTube search of “Earl Scruggs”. You’ve got the whole weekend. Go!


Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: March 29, 2012, 12:00 pm

hee hee hee You’re fully British now, I suppose, with the “in hospital” phrase. Are you fully on board with “nappies” “loo” “boot” “chips” and all the other differences in what Americans call English. RIP Earl

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 12:06 pm

A few of my favorites: Salty Dog. Foggy Mountain Breakdown (the older version with the minor chord). Dear Old Dixie.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 12:11 pm

Ha! I caught that and almost changed, df, but what the hell. I only pick up what I have to to make myself understood (if you tell people you’re going to gas up the car, they think propane).

Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms. Randy Lynne Rag. Reuben (the first song Earl dropped the third finger down on when he was a boy, says his autobiography).

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 12:15 pm

Doc and Earl jazzing it up.

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: March 29, 2012, 1:04 pm

Man, that performance of Scruggs on Letterman, with Steve Martin, Marty Stewart, Vince Gill, and Paul Shaffer . . . wow.

Comment from Clifford Skridlow
Time: March 29, 2012, 1:16 pm

Earl’s the reason I bought a banjo. He sure set the bar high.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 1:36 pm

I have a terrible case of Banjo Acquisition Syndrome. Thanks to poverty, I’m holding the line at six. But I got outbid on one at an auction last week that I really, really wanted. At least I have the comfort of knowing it went for well over 3X the guide price.

Gorgeous day in East Sussex. I’ve been sitting in the garden picking for the chickens.

Comment from orabidoo
Time: March 29, 2012, 4:02 pm

Dame Weasel,

I should think that poverty is a prerequisite condition to authenticity of a banjo operator.
What did b.b. king say about the guitar? If it hasn’t been pawned it don’t know how to play the blues?

It was b.b. king, the gentleman with diabeetus, not k.d. lang, the person with preference issues.

My own banjo would win no beauty contests, although it is beautiful to me. It was built in rural Oregon and i got it by from the big mail order store after it went on clearance for$330.
It is 48″ long, has one beefy string and requires 55 pounds to be applied by a left handed player, utilizing 3 fingers in a 3-fingered glove.
The twang of the string is followed by caterwauling from about 60-90 feet away for an intriguing quadrophonia effect.
I have never been able to play it fast enough to re-create a recognizable standard such as “yesterday”, “achilles last stand”, “in the gallery” or what have ye.
It has been years since your adoring minion gallery was offered an illo of banjo strumming mustelid.

Comment from sandman says : I friggin miss Earl already…
Time: March 29, 2012, 4:36 pm

I frigging miss Earl already. God Bless the Man and what he did for the five stringer. I dabble in the guitar, never had the stones to try a banjo after watching Earl and Steve Martin. Good thing Steve’s gone Bluegrass since his acting career is junk these days.

Anyone ever seen the guy from Union Station? Damn good picker for short, balding and looking like the IT Guy. Good player.

Luv me some Bluegrass.

RIP Earl. Class Act.

Comment from sandman says : I friggin miss Earl already…
Time: March 29, 2012, 4:52 pm

Hey now, I’m short balding and look like an IT Guy…I think I just profiled myself…


I denounce myself.

that is all…

Comment from Oceania
Time: March 29, 2012, 5:07 pm

Friday started with bad news. Our grant for Naeglaria research was abruptly discontinued and re-routed to fund these inferior minorities and their monkey gods worship. I went to the lab to rescue whatever vials I could and I am hopeful I could synthetize a pheromone that would trigger a mass ovulation of sheep. Anyone has a balloon, a dirigible or zeppelin I could rent for a couple hours?

If I had a son, that’s what he would look like.


Comment from beasn
Time: March 29, 2012, 5:33 pm

Oceania, are you planning to do what fertility Dr. Cecil Jacobson did, but in person?

Comment from Cecil Jacobson, MD
Time: March 29, 2012, 5:55 pm

I resent the scurrilous comparison with this illiterate baboon, “oceania”.

We are gathered here together to grieve the passing of the banjo giant and all that piker does is examining the elasticity and taste of uterine mucus.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: March 29, 2012, 6:45 pm

I don’t know why this hits me so hard, I just am heartbroken to hear this news. I love his music so much, and so many others like him and it just makes me so low to hear of this man’s passing.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 7:03 pm

I didn’t expect to react this hard, but watching those YouTubes really choked me up a bit.

The hour and a half documentary Earl Scruggs and Friends is up on YouTube in its entirety (when did YouTube start serving long-form video?). Watching it confirms two things: Earl Scruggs was awesome and 1972 really, really sucked.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: March 29, 2012, 7:29 pm

You can catch the Old Opry show he and Lester Flatts did on Netflix on demand. Part of America died and it just feels like we’re losing more and more without getting any back.

Comment from orabidoo
Time: March 29, 2012, 8:55 pm

The only bad rendition of Star Spangled Banner I can think of was by rosie o’donnell.

That said,

this fellow would probably receive a “sorry, we are not hiring right now” letter from the Hutaree Militia HQ.
He missed a few notes… must have lost some feeling from licking exposed tractor battery terminals.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 9:38 pm

Dude, stop shitting in this thread. I am not in a happy place today.

Comment from Deborah
Time: March 29, 2012, 9:59 pm

You were my first thought, Stoaty, when I saw that Earl Scruggs had gone on ahead. I am glad that you know how to play the banjo, so he will live on though your music.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 10:05 pm

My dad got an iPad a few weeks ago, finally connecting him to the dang internet (he had a laptop computer before, but he never could get the hang of it). I’ve been sending him YouTube links all day. He was like the world’s biggest Earl Scruggs fanboy. In fact, I got the news first thing this morning in an email from him.

Comment from Oldcat
Time: March 29, 2012, 10:35 pm

He wasn’t bad acting in his guest shots on the Beverly Hillbillies, either.


Comment from Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Time: March 29, 2012, 10:47 pm

Dang! I went back and forth between Scruggs and Zawahiri in the Dead Pool and just forthed to Zawahiti. No dick for me.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 11:07 pm

Never mind, Malcolm. I’d’ve paid out, but I would’ve been pretty flexed about it.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 29, 2012, 11:17 pm

stoaty, check your email sometime this evening. I sent yuo the Obit the local paper here ran. not sure if this is off the wires or local. pretty long for our tiny hometown paper.
God Bless ya, kiddo.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 29, 2012, 11:20 pm

Got it, Sandy. That’s an especially good writeup. Thanks.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 29, 2012, 11:46 pm

Glad to help. I still remember episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies where Granny was trying to teach the city wives of Earl and Lester to cook “country”. Damn, that was better television than anything since. I was maybe 6 or 8 then those episodes came out. I discovered Johnny Cash then too.

Feeling a tad older than I am today.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: March 30, 2012, 12:00 am

Yea, I heard about it last night at the bar: the manager/bartender is a part-time country musician himself, & he got about four texts in two minutes all saying the same thing.

I can’t seem to ever listen to Earl Scruggs without breaking out in a grin, it’s just brilliant, joyful stuff.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 30, 2012, 12:21 am

God’s Blessings are seldom as clear, reliable and consistent as Br’er Scruggs. The angels can now enjoy learning finger rolls on the harp.

Comment from rustbucket
Time: March 30, 2012, 1:45 am

Nothing like a little “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” to bring ya out of a funk. My Dad, rest his soul, turned me on to bluegrass at an early age and it stuck. RIP, Mr. Earl.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 30, 2012, 1:52 am

I read that prior to Earl appearing with Bill Monroe at the Grand Ole Opry, when he was in his tender 20s,the banjo was used by such classic country “corn pone” comedians as Grandpa Jones and Stringbean. The “clawhammer” technique looks like the person playing has a grudge against the banjo, and lacks about everything the Scruggs technique brings to the table.

The analogy was someone introducing lead guitar and rock and roll into the world of big band music and barre chords.

Rhythm suddenly becomes lead: mediocrity becomes razor sharp. As a long time Bluegrass fan, it can not be overstated what Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe introduced into the world of country and western swing. His finger roll style is everywhere, the standard for so long most players think it’s always been this way.

What a legacy. Only person in the last century to even approach has to be Les Paul’s popularization of the electric guitar.

“We will not see their like again.”


Comment from PatAZ
Time: March 30, 2012, 2:46 am

A sadness fell over me when I hear about Earl Scruggs. I am so old, I remember listening to Flatt and Scruggs on the radio on the Grand Ole Opry. Must have been a hundret year ago.

Comment from Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Time: March 30, 2012, 2:56 am

We all gotta go sometime. Thanks for the link. It led me to a player named Katie Norton. Banjo music is fine unless you’re camping.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: March 30, 2012, 3:05 am

Yeah when Earl got up there, the angels handed him a banjo instead of a harp.

Comment from Oh Hell
Time: March 30, 2012, 3:11 am

The angels are listening to Foggy Mountain Breakdown and loving it. R.I.P. Mr. Scruggs.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 30, 2012, 3:27 am

G’night folks. Night, Earl.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: March 30, 2012, 8:42 am

It’s really a stunning loss. Not only did the Scruggs-Flatt version of Bill’s band give the name to an entire genre of music, but the very instruments they played set the standard for instruments in that and related genres of music. Mandolin? Pre-war Lyoyd Loar/Gibson F-5 (Bill.) Guitar? Pre-war Martin HD-28 (Lester.) Banjo? Pre-war Gibson Mastertone (Earl, of course.) Prices of originals are simply astronomical, and every modern manufacturer claims to build an instrument that produces that exact same sound.

Favorite quote about Earl – “He can pick the banjer, but he ain’t one bit funny!” – “Uncle” Dave Macon.

FULL DISCLOSURE – I dearly love the clawhammer/frailing banjo sound. Steve Martin obviously does as well, so I don’t feel lonely.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: March 30, 2012, 8:48 am

ADDENDUM – I wouldn’t say Steve’s acting career has gone in the toilet so he’s going back to his roots. He started heading back to his picking roots years ago, taking up with Fleck and Trishka. And while it was a huge flop commercially-speaking, I thought last year’s “A Big Year” was a cute movie, well worth the watch.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 30, 2012, 11:20 am

Clawhammer (AKA drop thumb AKA frailing) is making a serious comeback at the moment. My grandfather played drop thumb, my dad played Scruggs style. Deadly rivalry.

I’ve tried to pick up clawhammer, but I haven’t got the hang of the stroke.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 30, 2012, 2:58 pm

I don’t care for clawhammer banjo. Its an acquired taste so there’s that.I have seenSteve Martin do finger rolls along with ” frailin” away at the banjo. I like Bela Fleck and live within 20 minutes of a town where the Steep Canyon Rangers helped get their start.Doc Watson and Merle are from my neck of NC. I still think flailing is the right description for clawhammer. Still good both schools are alive and thriving.
That said I think Steve Martin has picked some awful movies in the last decade and dropped behind some others. Same for moonbat Robin Williams, who caan be funny. Can be. Not guaranteed. I prefer Steves banjo and stand up to Father of The Bored.
Just my take. your mileage may vary.

Comment from sandman says nothing to see here
Time: March 30, 2012, 3:01 pm

Merle WAS not is. I are verb challenged on my phone today. sorry.

Comment from mojo
Time: March 30, 2012, 4:28 pm

OT: Hey, Stoaty

Want the PERFECT birthday present for UB?

Here. No, don’t thank me, ma’am. All part of the job.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 30, 2012, 9:26 pm

aiiiiiiiii…the badger theramin!!!!

Comment from mojo
Time: March 30, 2012, 9:41 pm

Indeed. The cored-out badger in question has a sort of dopey look on it’s face, though, don’t know if that’s appropriate or not.

But then – WHO CARES? It’s a BADGER THERAMIN!!!!!

Comment from mojo
Time: March 30, 2012, 9:44 pm

PS: if you want it, better be quick. I hear the Blogess is sniffing around…

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: March 30, 2012, 11:11 pm

On the lighter side today, Olberdouche has been tossed out of Current TV on his lilly white ass. He doesn’t even get to say goodbye…. 🙂

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