Is it the overproduced crap so many perform these days? The overly-matchy cowboy suits and string ties? The corn-pone turns of phrase? Country musicians are sometimes underestimated musically.
There was no chance of that with Earl Scruggs.
His contributions to bluegrass music are clear, identifiable, lasting and, yes, revolutionary. Even as the junior member of Bill Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, people were aware of his gifts and the uniqueness of his playing, were aware that Scruggs brought a style to banjo playing that was radical and new. Hear the banjo being played, and understand; there is pre-Scruggs and there is post-Scruggs, there is Scruggs and there are people who want to sound like Scruggs. His style, developed over years of mastering his instrument, has been imitated by generations of pickers; all are pale echoes of his virtuoso command.
Earl Scruggs died on Wednesday at the age of 88, following a relationship with music that lasted over 80 years. I never had the good fortune of meeting him, but I have met and interviewed some of his musical contemporaries. He was loved and respected and he will be sorely missed.
You can watch the amazing Earl Scruggs, from a 1965 television broadcast, picking on Flatt & Scruggs’ signature tune, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which became an international hit when it was used throughout the film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), here.
His New York Times obituary is here.