Friday 30 March 2012


Farewell to

"The father of bluegrass banjo"

Yesterday's Guardian put it this way: "[Earl] Scruggs was the most influential banjo player there has ever been: he was banjo's Bach, Beethoven and Bob Dylan all rolled into one. He pioneered the three-finger style of picking responsible for the sound you hear whenever you think of the instrument's fleet-fingered, jangling sound. Until then, banjo players was played in the traditional "claw-hammer style" – Scruggs's use of the third finger allowed him to play the driving arpeggios that we associate with banjo music today.

Here's his most famous composition, 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' which became widely known through its use in the 1967 film, Bonnie & Clyde, and features (if you can count quickly enough) eleven notes a second!

Probably his other best-remembered recording is the title-song to the 1962 TV show, The Beverley Hillbillies performed with here (and sung by) Lester Flatt...


Suzanne said...

Did anyone else notice Steve Martin in the first clip?

rostin tivermi: a square dance instruction that noone has yet understood

Brian Sibley said...

Steve Martin, who does indeed play banjo (and who was among the 'Friends' in that clip of 'Earl Scruggs and Friends') has said of 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.”

You can read a fine essay by Steve Martin, 'The Master from Flint Hill: Earl Scruggs' in The New Yorker, here

Sheila said...

Steve Martin is on the clip, but was he actually there? He seems rather out of it and the camera doesn't pick him up in the ensemble shots.

It would be good to have a complete list of personnel on the clip ... many are recognisable, but the names are stuck at the back of the memory! (I'm not suggesting you should look them up, Brian. You're too busy)

SharonM said...

I find it impossible to think of the banjo without remembering that scene in 'Deliverance' - so iconic.

Brian Sibley said...

Sheila – The line-up: Earl Scruggs, banjo - Glen Duncan, fiddle - Randy Scruggs, acoustic guitar - Steve Martin, 2nd banjo solo - Vince Gill, 1st electric guitar solo - Marty Stuart, mandolin - Gary Scruggs, harmonica - Albert Lee, 2nd electric guitar solo - Paul Shaffer, piano - Jerry Douglas, dobro - Leon Russell, organ - Glenn Worf, bass - Harry Stinson, drums

Sharon – The 'Dueling Banjos' track on John Boorman's Deliverance (which is, indeed, iconic) was performed by Eric Weissberg, Steve Mandel and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith.

Roger O B... said...

The only one we recognised sraight away (apart from Steve Martin) was that fine British guitarist, Albert lee, looking more and more like Spike Milligan as he gets older (or one of those dwarves you should be writing about, Brian!). I'm off to burn my banjo!

Brian Sibley said...