Monday, April 2, 2012

Farewell, Banjo Man

Wow, these last few months have been rough for the music world. Last Wednesday on March 28th, American musician Earl Scruggs passed away from natural causes at the age of 88. As an amazing banjo player with about a 67-year career, he perfected and popularized a three-finger banjo-picking style (now even called "Scruggs style") that is a defining element of bluegrass music.
These next few tunes actually tie in with the Country Crossover Series that we'll be continuing this month. In the fall of 1962, with singer Jerry Scoggins, Lester Flatt and Scruggs recorded "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" for the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. The theme song became an immediate country music hit reaching #1 on the country chart and #44 on the Billboard Hot 100 later in '62.

Played by Flatts & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, this next bluegrass instrumental was written by Scruggs and first recorded in 1949. Now a standard in bluegrass repertoire, a re-recorded version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was used in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie & Clyde (check out a classic car chase scene here), and even peaked at #55. This Grammy-award winning tune is one of the fastest and most rhythmically challenging pieces for the banjo, and only very skilled 5-string banjo players can play it at the same speed and beat that Scruggs could. Here's a great live performance from 1965, featuring Scruggs doing what he did best.

Thanks for the fun music, Mr. Scruggs!

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