Steve Martin on the Legendary Bluegrass Musician Earl Scruggs

The great blue­grass ban­jo play­er Earl Scrug­gs died Wednes­day at the age of 88. Short­ly after­ward, Steve Mar­tin sent out a tweet call­ing Scrug­gs the most impor­tant ban­jo play­er who ever lived. “Few play­ers have changed the way we hear an instru­ment the way Earl has,” wrote Mar­tin ear­li­er this year in The New York­er, “putting him in a cat­e­go­ry with Miles Davis, Louis Arm­strong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hen­drix.”

Mar­tin writes of Scrug­gs:

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. In 1945, when he first stood on the stage at the Ryman Audi­to­ri­um in Nashville and played ban­jo the way no one had heard before, the audi­ence respond­ed with shouts, whoops, and ova­tions. He per­formed tunes he wrote as well as songs they knew, with clar­i­ty and speed like no one could imag­ine, except him. When the singer came to the end of a phrase, he filled the the­atre with sparkling runs of notes that became a sig­na­ture for all blue­grass music since. He wore a suit and a Stet­son hat, and when he played he smiled at the audi­ence like what he was doing was effort­less. There aren’t many earth­quakes in Ten­nessee, but that night there was.

You can con­tin­ue read­ing the essay at The New York­er Web­site.

In Novem­ber of 2001 Mar­tin had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play the ban­jo along­side his hero on the David Let­ter­man show. (See above.) They played Scrug­gs’s clas­sic, “Fog­gy Moun­tain Break­down,” with Scrug­gs’s sons Randy on acoustic gui­tar and Gary on Har­mon­i­ca, and a stel­lar group that includ­ed Vince Gill and Albert lee on elec­tric gui­tar, Mar­ty Stew­art on man­dolin, Glen Dun­can on fid­dle, Jer­ry Dou­glas on Dobro, Glenn Wolf on bass, Har­ry Stin­son on drums, Leon Rus­sell on organ and Paul Shaf­fer on piano.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.