Skip

Who Will Sing for Me? Earl Scruggs
March 28, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Earlier this year, Steve Martin penned a loving tribute to Earl Scruggs, published in New Yorker. "Some nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his fingertips. Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did, or at least tried." A few minutes ago, Steve Martin offered a rare somber tweet: "Earl Scruggs, the most important banjo player who ever lived, has passed on." One could do worse than spend some time watching and listening to Earl Scruggs perform.
posted by spock (103 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
.
posted by carping demon at 5:26 PM on March 28, 2012




.

May he find his big rock candy mountain.
posted by hanoixan at 5:29 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by mwhybark at 5:29 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by JiBB at 5:30 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by notsnot at 5:33 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by hal9k at 5:33 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by Catblack at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2012


That tribute from Martin is beautiful.

Picking with Earl at his home in Nashville is a holy anointment, and playing Earl’s banjo, the one he recorded “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on in 1949, well, that’s like holding the Grail.


Indeed.

𝅘𝅥𝅲𝅘𝅥𝅯
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:35 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


.
posted by jabo at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2012


it's not just the banjo and bluegrass that have so much to thank him for, it spidered into folk and country, and alt country (and from there, even further). for instance, ani difranco would be a very different guitar player without earl scruggs having done his thing.

earl scruggs - the bluegrass legend - originally aired on PBS in 1972 - an hour and a half, grainy, but with performances by bob dylan, joan baez, the byrds and others.

i remember this episode of fresh air with him was a good listen.

i hope he went peacefully and knowing how much he means to this thing we call culture.

ground speed
posted by nadawi at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh man. This makes me very sad. The only possible bright spot is the mighty jam session that I expect will result for his tribute, bringing together the many musicians he influenced and inspired.

Play on, Earl.

.
posted by smirkette at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2012


Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers (spotify).

Couldn't find definitive credits for the track, but it sure is the one that leapt to my mind.
posted by mwhybark at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2012


So long, Earl.

.
posted by bondcliff at 5:46 PM on March 28, 2012


I know some Earl Scruggs, and I know some banjo, but what I really know is that hearing some banjo makes me really happy.
posted by mollweide at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2012


Oh shit. Adrienne Rich and Earl Scruggs. Two seminal figures, in their own ways.

Damn.

.
posted by Danf at 5:50 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by radiosilents at 5:50 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:55 PM on March 28, 2012


. (with a twang)
posted by thivaia at 5:57 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by drezdn at 6:02 PM on March 28, 2012


.

Foggy Mountain Breakdown was the 2nd banjo tune I ever learned, first was Boil Dem Cabbage Down -- it took years and my fangers were often cramped (anybody who's listened to that cassette tape that came with that book, Earl Scruggs and the 5-string Banjo knows what I'm talking about). I only know about four songs. And I'm using "know" pretty loosely. I remember a few years ago he was on David Letterman with a bunch of other people (including Steve Martin, I think) and I whipped out my banjo and tried to play along. I think I'll get it out now and try to play a bit.
posted by smcameron at 6:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


.

So sad. I remember going to see the tech rehearsal for a taping of Austin City Limits with Bela Fleck and being totally surprised when Earl Scruggs showed up to jam with them...he was absolutely amazing. RIP.
posted by devinemissk at 6:03 PM on March 28, 2012


.
.
.
.
.
posted by motty at 6:05 PM on March 28, 2012


I read this and mentioned to my wife that Earl had passed on.

"What'd he play?" she asked from the couch across the room. Note bene: She is not a music person. She likes music, but if pressed on what kind or which, she'll look at me and mouth "Help!"

"Close your eyes," I said, "and imagine banjo music. What you hear, is probably the sound of Earl Scruggs."

She nodded, and with eyes closed, began humming Foggy Mountain Breakdown. She then smiled and opened her eyes. I nodded. That, my gentle friends, is what makes a legend.

Bonus link: Earl and Billy Bob do Ring of Fire.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:11 PM on March 28, 2012 [24 favorites]


.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:12 PM on March 28, 2012


Scruggs with Martin on Letterman.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


.

but ... I have to say that what Earl pioneered was exceptionally hard to copy, and probably resulted in too many badly formulaic bluegrass bands taking breaks in turn around one mic. Earl basically picked at speed-metal rate, yet had a very delicate sense of timing that raised what he did above merely dazzling mechanics. And there are so, so many bluegrass banjo pickers who have the speed but none of the deftness of touch of Earl. The quest to sound authentically like Earl drove the price of 1920s Gibsons to stratospheric heights, and launched a huge banjo parts industry to recreate that "pre-war sound". The way to sound like Earl was to be Earl. And that's going to be a problem now.
posted by scruss at 6:20 PM on March 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


.
posted by No-sword at 6:21 PM on March 28, 2012




He was a great guy in real life too. He tried to take my uncle Wayne under his wing a few times, but Wayne would never leave his farm. Earl would still come visit though, way up in a Southern Appalachian holler just to hang out, eat and play music on the porch.

There will be some mournful banjo pickin' here at the ranch tonight.

.
posted by snsranch at 6:28 PM on March 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


.
posted by kenko at 6:30 PM on March 28, 2012


Oh noes, not Earl! Thanks for all the years of great, great music. *Sniff*
posted by Lynsey at 6:30 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by mrbill at 6:33 PM on March 28, 2012




.
posted by barnacles at 6:34 PM on March 28, 2012


::--.-----O
posted by lekvar at 6:37 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't usually do the "." thing, but his was the music that was played most often in my house as I was growing up. And it'll be the music playing in my house tonight.

.
posted by ook at 6:38 PM on March 28, 2012


Good for Steve Martin for writing that tribute while Earl Scruggs was alive to read it.

Man, I am bummed by today's necrology. Adrienne Rich and Earl Scruggs may never have met, but they both changed my life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:40 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:13 PM on March 28, 2012


Some say bluegrass was born when Earl joined Bill Monroe and the boys.

I don't believe in such things, but I can't help but imagine a reunion jam with Bill and Earl and Lester and Chubby... The moon and stars would smile.
posted by tommyD at 7:18 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Verdant at 7:22 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by The White Hat at 7:34 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by rtha at 7:51 PM on March 28, 2012


Thanks for the music, Earl.
posted by Abiezer at 7:54 PM on March 28, 2012


.

I've got a six-hour round trip in the car tomorrow. The question of what I'm going to listen to has now been resolved. Got to dig out the Bear family set.
posted by sciencejock at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2012


Do do do doot doot doot doot doot DOT.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2012


Joey Michaels, that clip is incredible; besides Scruggs and Martin, they've got Vince Gill and Marty Stuart and I'm not sure who else (the white-haired, kinda scruffy guitar player looks familiar) and they're all at the top of their form.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:03 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by carter at 8:05 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by eriko at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2012


He's one of those who affected me before I even knew who he was. Rest in peace.
posted by phrits at 8:11 PM on March 28, 2012


There is a bar where the crowd has changed, and the jukebox has changed, and the owner has changed, but Flatt and Scruggs version of Like A Rolling Stone remains. And you can play it any time you like, and everyone knows.
posted by dglynn at 8:12 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


.

I have heard more Flatt & Scruggs than I care to admit, even though it totally wasn't my scene. My sister was totally into them, she used to play their records endlessly. She even traveled to see them in concert. She was a total bluegrass nut, she even had a bluegrass radio show, which she will totally deny now that she's an aging New York hipster. I remember when my mom died, I was cleaning out her house and found a couple of my sister's old Flatt & Scruggs posters from the concerts she saw. My mom must have saved them for decades, stashed away so she would get them someday. She said they weren't hers, she never heard of them. But I noticed she took them, when nobody was looking.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:17 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just saw Give Me the Banjo at our local film festival. Earl of course is featured.
It's part of a bigger Banjo Project.
The whole thing is on PBS Video. Earl comes in at 48:50.
posted by MtDewd at 8:22 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:29 PM on March 28, 2012


Did somebody post this yet?

Swimming pools. Movie Stars.

I tried to find a Jerry Garcia item but came up empty. Jerry loved Earl and he loved the banjo but that seems to have gotten submerged beneath a quick google search. If you want to see how far Earl Scruggs' influence went into modern culture give a listen to Old and in the Way by Garcia and Rowan and Clements and Grisman and Kahn. I cannot believe that thing is out of print it is like one of the hundred greatest records ever.
posted by bukvich at 8:37 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


.
Saw him at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year.
.
posted by blob at 8:38 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by rahnefan at 8:40 PM on March 28, 2012


I'm at a bit of a loss... I have a love/hate relationship with traditional Bluegrass for many of the reasons scruss mentioned above. All of the imitators who have come along since can make it harder to appreciate the enormous innovation and talent of the original. If you've always kind of liked the sound of the banjo but maybe not so much the sound of bluegrass vocals then you owe it to yourself to beg, borrow or steal a copy of Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Banjo. (How can that be out of print?)

.
posted by usonian at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by Start with Dessert at 8:50 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:59 PM on March 28, 2012


.

My dad's a big classical music and early jazz guy. We always had music in our house growing up but never anything remotely modern, and usually piano-based. But he had one record of Flatt and Scruggs which we played until it was worn down.
"close your eyes and imagine banjo music... what you hear is Earl Scruggs" ... yes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by schyler523 at 9:23 PM on March 28, 2012


@Halloween Jack, I believe the white haired guitar player you mention is Albert Lee. He's a chicken pickin' monster.
posted by smcameron at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by bongo_x at 10:29 PM on March 28, 2012


Can anybody find a good full version of Salty Dog?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:31 PM on March 28, 2012


Can anybody find a good full version of Salty Dog?

The versions I have are around 2½ minutes and called Old Salty Dog Blues.
posted by bongo_x at 10:46 PM on March 28, 2012


Probably the same thing, I just haven't found a version on Youtube that has good audio.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:03 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by hangingbyathread at 11:16 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by Grangousier at 11:25 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by pianoboy at 11:26 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:54 PM on March 28, 2012


.
posted by jiroczech at 12:52 AM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by bjgeiger at 2:30 AM on March 29, 2012


I saw him play at Newport last year. An amazing experience.

.
posted by aheckler at 3:07 AM on March 29, 2012


A secret passion of the Bluegrass Nation: Flatt and Scruggs on The Beverly Hillbillies (music starts at 2:28)

"Pearl, Pearl Pearl,
Come be my loving girl,
Now don't you marry Lester Flatt
He slicks his hair with possum fat
Change your name to Mrs. Earl Scruggs!

"Pearl, Pearl Pearl,
You'll get no love from Earl
This here man is such a sap
He won't let you on his lap
Unless you are an old five string banjo!"
posted by zaelic at 3:48 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


What ringing endorsements for the man and his life! I know literally nothing about bluegrass, or banjo, or Scruggs, but these statements make me wish I did.
posted by JHarris at 4:42 AM on March 29, 2012


Episodes of the Flatt & Scruggs TV show are available on streaming Netflix. Even in black and white, with minimal production values (the backdrop looks like something painted for a high school play) Scruggs was an amazing performer, with incredible presence to match his mastery.

So sad I'll never get to see him perform in person. After much anticipation, my banjo arrived yesterday, and I blew off an increasingly urgent project to pick away much of the day.
posted by itstheclamsname at 4:52 AM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 4:58 AM on March 29, 2012


.

I remember hearing Foggy Mountain Breakdown on the radio as a kid and just loving it. Still love it, it's my favourite hurry-up music ever.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:59 AM on March 29, 2012


Mega .

A giant of my early love of music.
posted by Infinity_8 at 5:14 AM on March 29, 2012


It's difficult to think of anyone else who has had such an impact on their instrument than he did on the banjo.

.
posted by tommasz at 5:19 AM on March 29, 2012


.

I'm actually learning the banjo, or will resume once wedding planning drops off, and while I'm going to try to learn clawhammer instead of the (isn't it awesome to call it 'traditional') traditional Scruggs method he's still awesome in every way.

Shameless self-centered message: Anyone with picking experience feel free to drop me a line, self teaching really has been rough so far since I'm coming from nothing, nada, zip musical experience. I'm going to have to enlist a tutor/teacher, I'm actually looking forward to it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:58 AM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by Gronk at 6:58 AM on March 29, 2012


An American legend.

.
posted by Sailormom at 7:14 AM on March 29, 2012


An early memory: Hearing The Ballad of Jed Clampett on top-40 radio alongside Return to Sender, I Can't Stop Loving You, Telstar, Green Onions, The Peppermint Twist, Walk Right In, Monster Mash, and Big Girls Don't Cry. (And you thought the pre-Beatles 1960s was a pop music desert!)

People don't remember that the tune (not a Flatt & Scruggs original), otherwise known as The Beverly Hillbillies Theme, was a major Country hit, and even mussed its Brylcreemed hair on the bottom of the Pop Top 40 in the fall of 1962.

what Earl pioneered was exceptionally hard to copy, and probably resulted in too many badly formulaic bluegrass bands taking breaks in turn around one mic. Earl basically picked at speed-metal rate, yet had a very delicate sense of timing

Colin Harper's liner notes for Bert Jansch's first album (the 1965 LP) praises Jansch's registration. I don't see the term used this way a lot, but what he means (loosely) is the ability to create melody, counter melody, and rhythm parts that work well together using only 10 fingers and 6 (or 5) strings. In other words, applied counterpoint on the fretboard.

That skill is a big part of the difference between Scruggs and all those cats flailing away (sorry!) in derivative bluegrass bands. It's the difference between Bach's fugues and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star (sorry, Wolfie). To get that sound takes planning, timing, and big ol' ears.

Another word that doesn't get used a lot to describe banjo music is funky, but Scruggs's put some major pelvis into it!

.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:55 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
Heavenly harps now played with 3-finger style.
posted by ahimsakid at 8:16 AM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by K.P. at 9:28 AM on March 29, 2012


here's the best version of Salty Dog Blues on youtube, tho the sound quality is not the best I still defy you to listen to this and not have the song in your head later in the day.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by drhydro at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2012


When my dad was in college, he would listen to bluegrass and everyone in his dorm would make fun of him for being a hillbilly.

Then Bonnie and Clyde came out, and my dad became the hit of campus as the resident authority on Flatt and Scruggs.

My dad has late-stage Parkison's and isn't expected to live for another month.

Somehow this seems fitting.
posted by jefficator at 11:33 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:50 PM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by disclaimer at 4:14 PM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by fido~depravo at 5:48 PM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by mule98J at 7:02 PM on March 29, 2012


> Then Bonnie and Clyde came out, and my dad became the hit of campus
> as the resident authority on Flatt and Scruggs.

Then Deliverance came out and folks who previously thought nothing of calling it hillbilly started to soft-peddle that a bit whenever any of us were around to overhear. (Then Brother, Where Art Thou came out and after that we all agreed to call it "roots music", which hipsters and rednecks alike can enjoy.)

Some personal favorites (all oldies featuring Lester, Earl, and the Foggy Mountain Boys):

Flint Hill Special

Cripple Creek

Turn Your Radio On
(not for those who have a problem with way-up-the-holler vocals. Earl plays guitar.)

Over the Hill to the Poorhouse

Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms

Ground Speed would be here too but nadawi already linked it up above.

And. This isn't Earl but I'll just leave it here, to prove there is banjo picking that isn't Scruggs-style, because it's drawn by a couple of hillbillies named Zdenka Škripková and Bohumil Šiška, because whoever would have guessed you could do anything with "Turkey In The Straw," and because I love it love it love it to pieces. Rosie's Walk. Yer welcome.
posted by jfuller at 8:13 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:25 PM on March 29, 2012


I've been avoiding this thread all day.

The news isn't a shock; Earl's 88 and hasn't seemed to be in great health lately. But still, Damn.

Not only did Earl Scruggs define a style of banjo playing, but that style defines an entire genre of music. I can't think of any other musician who's done anything comparable. Robert Johnson was a blues pioneer, but there's no school of Johnson-style guitar. Clapton was God, but there's no musical genre that requires a guitar played Clapton-style. But there sure as hell is Scruggs-style banjo, and bluegrass music will, dammit, include a five-string banjo played Scruggs-style.

Then there's the effect Earl's had on my life, personally. Growing up in East Tennessee, it's not insignificant. My dad played banjo when I was little during the Newgrass 70's. We went to see live bluegrass at Buddy's BBQ in Knoxville. As a teenager, I took to the Metal, and in retrospect, there's an awful lot of similarity between Kirk Hammet's guitar and Earl's banjo.

Earl's also around in less obvious ways. I buy Martha White flour and cornmeal because my grandmother bought Martha White flour and cornmeal. My grandmother bought Martha White because of Flatt & Scruggs. Seriously, Earl Scruggs influences how I make cornbread.

Check out the Family & Friends video nadawi linked above. One of my favorite parts is the anti-Vietnam war rally. Charlie Daniels tells you how nobody else from the Opry would've shown up. itstheclamsname mentioned the Flatt & Scruggs TV show. It's pure awesome; I've been watching almost constantly since last night.

Plenty of tunes linked upthread, but here's some of my favorites I didn't see:
Down the Road
Pike County Breakdown
Fireball Mail
Earl's Breakdown

Bluegrass, and therefore Earl Scruggs, has always been around in my life. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it's never gone for very long. It's been pretty significant for the last 10. I started listening more, then decided if my accountant dad could play the banjo, then maybe I could, too. I bought a banjo 5 years ago and have been playing consistently for the last two.

I didn't cry for Earl today, but I might have drooled a bit out of the corner of my mouth while I tried to play his music.
posted by lost_cause at 9:56 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


.
posted by agog at 9:59 PM on March 29, 2012


.
posted by newdaddy at 10:20 PM on March 29, 2012


> I can't think of any other musician who's done anything comparable

Well, there's Django and manouche ...
posted by scruss at 7:00 AM on March 30, 2012



.
posted by Man with Lantern at 9:47 AM on March 30, 2012


« Older [Enter totally relevant Simpsons quotation here]   |   Since apparently it is Map Day. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post