Remembering Earl Scruggs

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What’s the definition of a lasting musical impact? Sure, number one albums and sold-out world tours are all very well and good, but let’s be honest here … no-one is going to be praising One Direction for their game-changing approach to genre and structure anytime soon (and if you do hear someone doing that, it’s probably best to refer them to a psychiatric ward).

Nope – a true mark of legendary status is when a genre or sound is named after you. Think about it: if you’re the go-to reference to describe a particular method of music-making, then your legacy is set in stone. Forget download sales – you’re in the dictionary, son!

Which brings us to the ‘Scruggs picking style’ – a method of three-fingered banjo playing that was invented and pioneered by bluegrass idol Earl Scruggs. Scruggs sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 88, and to say that American music has lost a father figure would be an understatement. If you’ve listened to virtually anything within the country genre over the past five decades, you’ve heard the influence of Scruggs coming through. It’s all too easy to remember him mainly as the guy behind the Beverley Hillbillies theme … but to do so would be dismissing one of the all-time greats.

Fellow banjo player Steve Martin had this to say:

“When the singer came to the end of a phrase, he filled the theatre with sparkling runs of notes that became a signature for all bluegrass music since,” he said.

“A grand part of American music owes a debt to Earl Scruggs. Few players have changed the way we hear an instrument the way Earl has, putting him in a category with Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix.”

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