He was so iconic that he was known simply as “Earl” among bluegrass musicians and fans.
Earl Scruggs influence on the 5-string banjo is as pervasive as the influence of oxygen to life on earth. He created a three-finger, syncopated, rolling right-hand picking style that defined the sound of the banjo in bluegrass music. His playing, while extremely technical, was somewhat understated to match his low-key, quiet personality. Earl stepped up to the mike, played his parts and stepped back. No mugging, no showboating… just incredible feeling and competence!
Coming from a time and place where playing music was a desirable alternative to farm labor, Flatt & Scruggs traveled and performed for years doing early morning radio shows and driving to play around a single public address system microphone in a high school auditorium. Many, many dues were paid, that’s for sure.
In the early ’70s, Earl formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons and began playing more contemporary material, working with popular non-bluegrass performers and playing in venues that were considerably more hippie-fied than the traditional bluegrass venues. Not surprisingly, Earl’s banjo style and stage presence remained exactly the same, but fit seamlessly into his new genre.
Yes, Earl’s legacy is as pervasive as oxygen… and will endure as long as bluegrass musicians are still breathing.