He created the modern sound of 5-string banjo and bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and became a household name with The Beverly Hillbillies

Earl Scruggs (photo credit - whittlz Flickr)

By Stephen Pate – Earl Scruggs, the man behind bluegrass banjo and The Beverley Hillbillies theme song “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” died in Nashville, TN at 88 on March 28, 2012.

Bill Monroe sang the high lonesome sound of bluegrass but it was the lightning 3-finger picking of Earl Scruggs’ banjo that propelled the music.

Scruggs left the claw hammer style of banjo, which is similar to thumb picking and strumming the guitar, and popularized the clever and fast 3-finger picking style.

Although other banjo players played 3-finger style, it was Earl Scruggs job with Bill Monroe in 1945 that catapulted the style to the forefront. Scruggs-style is the defacto standard for banjo players today.


Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs at The Grand Old Opry – Little Maggie from the DVD “Earl Scruggs Bluegrass Banjo Legend”

In 1948, Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt formed a new group called the Foggy Mountain Boys. The name band was affectionately satirized on the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” as the Soggy Bottom  Mountain Boys. (updated).

Later the name changed to Flatt and Scruggs. They enjoyed much success both in Country, Folk and Pop music.

Flatt and Scruggs were regular performers on the folk circuit during the 1960s, including the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. They had a big influence in making bluegrass music, which by then had become a niche of country music, popular among young musicians.

Related – Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe backstage just pickin’

The band crossed over to popular music when they recorded, with Jerry Scroggins, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the 1962 television hit show The Beverly Hillbillies.


“The Ballad of Jed Clampett”

Flatt and Scruggs appeared on The Beverly Hillbillies twice, along with playing the theme song each week for 9 years and decades more with re-runs.


Flatt and Scruggs perform “Pearl Pearl Pearl” at 2:21 minutes

Flatt and Scruggs’ instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” won the band two Grammy Awards, one in 1972 and another in 2001 in a version with Steve Martin, himself an amateur banjo player. Learning “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is a rite of passage for every bluegrass banjo player.

PBS broadcast an excellent documentary on the life of this American musical giant entitled “Earl Scruggs Bluegrass Banjo Legend”. It portrays Earl Scruggs as a highly likeable, talented and determined musician. I have the DVD and recommend it.

Where to buy Earl Scruggs music

Amazon.com has a store dedicated to Flatt and Scruggs.

The Complete Mercury Sessions CD contains their recording from 1948 when the band was formed until 1950.

The Essential Earl Scruggs is a 2-CD set that covers the Bill Monroe period in 1945 through to the 1970s and 1980s. It includes material from all the groups he performed in and is a good cross-section of his best material.

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Photo credit whittlz, Flickr