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Earl Scruggs Made Country And Bluegrass Cool

The death Wednesday of banjo legend Earl Scruggs at the age of 88 is generating many, many reports today about how he "helped define the sound of bluegrass," as our friends at The Record blog say.

NPR's Paul Brown, who plays the banjo, guitar and fiddle himself, says that Scruggs' "rapid-fire, three-finger playing style ... had a syncopated drive that electrified audiences and country music enthusiasts worldwide."

Many may know Scruggs best for his work with guitar player Lester Flatt — and in particular their theme for The Beverly Hillbillies.

For this blogger, though, and many others it was how Scruggs helped turn a much younger generation on to his music that's most memorable.

Think back (or ask your parents):

It was the early '70s. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others had shown that rock 'n' rollers could play country too.

/ EarlScruggs.com

But then The Earl Scruggs Revue popped on to the scene — Earl and a bunch of long-haired guys (two of them his sons).

He pulled in players and singers such as The Byrds' Roger McGuinn and Clarence White, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Bramlett, the Pointer Sisters and Billy Joel to contribute to the Revue's albums. A personal favorite: the Revue's rendition of Third Rate Romance.

Wait a minute, we wondered, are old guys who play country music and bluegrass cool too?

Indeed they were — a notion that was reinforced in those year's by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, on which Scruggs also played.

So here's a posthumous tip of the hat to Earl Scruggs, for reaching out to the kids and exposing us to a wonderful part of the musical world.

Nashville Public Radio says a memorial service is set for Sunday afternoon at the Ryman Auditorium. He died of natural causes, according to The Tennessean.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR's Paul Brown, on Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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