The Origin of Three Finger Style Banjo

        Here’s the way I heard the story.

        Years ago two boys were cooped up in their Cleveland County farmhouse homeplace.  It was a rainy day and they had a reprieve from their chores.  One was named Horace.  He played a guitar.  His brother was Earl, and he picked a banjo.

        As boys can do, they got in an argument over some long forgotten point of contention, and Earl went back to the bedroom. 

        He had been messing with a song called ‘Ruben.’  He began to play.

        Suddenly he called out to Horace.  “I got it, I got it.”

        Horace forgot why he was mad.  It sounded important.  “Whatcha got, whatcha got?”

       “Listen.”  Earl proceeeded with a cascade of notes.  They lit up the room on a dark day in a way the boys had never heard.  “I figured out how to use three fingers.”

       “Let me get my guitar.”  Horace took off on a run.  He came back and laid down that metronome rhythm.  “You got it, You got it.” 

        Many years later Horace still recalled the day in great detail.  Looking back, even though the boys could not have any way to know how significant the event was, I believe deep in their hearts they knew that was the day ‘Scruggs Style’ banjo was born.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: favorite known bands, memorable gigs, Writing

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4 Comments on “The Origin of Three Finger Style Banjo”

  1. Kenny Says:

    Dear Doc, Thank you so much for posting this story. So many lives were changed by that few moments . Thank goodness they had a tiff 🙂 although I’m sure Earl would have done it anyway.

    The way you have told that story puts me right in the bedroom with those boys , it is very vivid !

    History as it happened ! Thank’s again Doc – you never disappoint !
    Best Wishes,

    • drtombibey Says:


      It’s funny; neither can recall what they disagreed on, yet you are so right. The world changed that day.

      I also agree with you if it hadn’t been then it would have happened soon after, ’cause Earl Scruggs was a man of destiny.

      I have heard Wayne Benson say when you go to a bluegrass festival every banjo note can be traced back to Earl. Given he hears some pretty hot picking at the house (Kristin Scott Benson) I figure they know.

      Dr. B

  2. I love this little story, Dr. B! As always, your writing is simply fantastic… You have a way of telling things that feels like they’re being told to me, like a story being read at bedtime to a child. It just always feels vocal, if that makes any sense.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Oh it does make sense, and thank you so much. One time someone told me they felt like I was sitting beside them in a rocking chair reading the story out loud.

      When it strikes you that way I feel like you have given me as high a compliment as a writer as I could ever hope for.

      Dr. B

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