Google: “Here’s old Earl Scruggs with his fancy five-string banjo,” the introduction for the bluegrass banjo master’s Grand Ole Opry show stated. Today’s Doodle celebrates Earl Scruggs, the man who developed the “Scruggs style” (his own three-finger method of picking) on the anniversary of the opening of the Earl Scruggs Center in 2014. His innovation changed the sound of American roots music, but fancy was not a word Scruggs would use to describe his beloved banjo. “It’s just an old hand-me-down,” he said of the Gibson Granada he’d played since the 1940s.
Born in North Carolina on January 6, 1924, Scruggs grew up working on the family farm and playing the banjo. He was 21 years old when he joined Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys band, whose sound coined the term “bluegrass music.” In that band, Scruggs met guitarist Lester Flatt with whom he would launch the Foggy Mountain Boys in the late 1940s. Their televised Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry show premiered in 1955 and gained a new wave of popularity during the folk music revival, running through 1969.
After Flatt & Scruggs split up in 1969, Earl found new fans when he bridged generations and musical genres by forming the “Earl Scruggs Revue” with sons Gary and Randy. From 1969 to 1980, the Revue was a pioneering band in merging country and bluegrass sounds with elements from rock music. In his latter years, Earl’s musical journey continued with his “Family & Friends” band.
Earl’s wife Louise Scruggs became one of the first female managers in the music industry when she began managing Flatt & Scruggs. The duo’s music appeared in the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies and their “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was included on the soundtrack to the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde.
Scruggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. He received several other awards and honors, including the prestigious National Medal of the Arts and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
All because, as Flatt used to put it: “He kind of likes to show off anyway, pickin’ the hot stuff.”