Earl Scruggs Dazzled Audiences With Playing Style Melissa Block remembers bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs, who died Wednesday at the age of 88. The North Carolina native popularized the three-finger playing style, and dazzled audiences with a rolling cascade of notes. He may be best known for the tune "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and the theme to the 1960's TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, recorded with his long-time guitarist partner, Lester Flatt.
NPR logo

Earl Scruggs Dazzled Audiences With Playing Style

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149635829/149636066" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Earl Scruggs Dazzled Audiences With Playing Style

Earl Scruggs Dazzled Audiences With Playing Style

Earl Scruggs Dazzled Audiences With Playing Style

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149635829/149636066" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Melissa Block remembers bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs, who died Wednesday at the age of 88. The North Carolina native popularized the three-finger playing style, and dazzled audiences with a rolling cascade of notes. He may be best known for the tune "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and the theme to the 1960's TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, recorded with his long-time guitarist partner, Lester Flatt.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Maybe you know Earl Scruggs and his lightning-fast banjo from the theme song to "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Ballad of Jed Clampett."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BALLAD OF JED CLAMPETT")

BLOCK: Or you'll know Flatt and Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from the movie "Bonnie and Clyde."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "FOGGY MOUNTAIN BREAKDOWN")

BLOCK: Well, my memory of Earl Scruggs, who died yesterday at age 88, is linked to a fine day in 2003 when he and his banjo came by our studios.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: And what he could do on that banjo was revolutionary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLOCK: It was enough to knock the socks off a young kid named Bela Fleck.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: As Bela Fleck told me years ago, Earl Scruggs' genius came not just from his virtuoso technique but also his deep country roots in North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Earl Scruggs started playing banjo when he was 4, coming up with his own banjo licks by the time he was 10. And even though someone once calculated that Scruggs could play 11 notes per second, he would say he didn't think of his banjo playing as fast. What was important was good, clean timing. The story goes that his children, Earl and his siblings would start playing a tune, then walk around the house in opposite directions and see if they were still playing in time when they met up again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Earl Scruggs' rolling, syncopated three-finger picking style was his signature - Scruggs style, it came to be called - intricate with tremendous drive. And as banjo player Tony Trischka once showed me, that expanded the rhythmic possibilities of the instrument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLOCK: Earl Scruggs once said he couldn't really describe his own playing. He said it would be kind of like trying to explain the way I breathe. Tony Trischka put it this way.

: To me, he's the greatest five-string banjo player who ever lived and ever will, you know, just...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

: That's it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.