Earl Scruggs passed away around 10:00 AM Wednesday March 28, 2012. Along the way he all but re-invented how to play the five string banjo, and inspired folks all over the world. As Wayne Benson once said, “When you go to a bluegrass festival, every banjo note you hear can be traced back to Earl. Indeed his way to play the five-string banjo will forever be known as “Scruggs style picking.”
We were fortunate to get to play with Earl several times. I recall a fine lead singer with us at one session who was so awe-struck at first couldn’t remember the words to “Little Cabin Home on the Hill” when Earl called for it, even though I had heard Ray sing it hundreds of times. (He recovered and did a fine job.)
We were mesmerized. Earl’s playing was downright magical. He had that effect on everyone. When John Hartford first heard him on the car radio he almost ran off the road. Hartford knew right then how he intended to spend the rest of his life.
Horace told us of the day when Earl discovered how to add in the third finger on his roll (the song was Reuben). We played a lot of music with Horace over the years. He was a nice man, but did insist on two things: 1. You had to keep good time. 2. He strongly encouraged we play a Flatt and Scruggs number in every set. We had no problem going along with that at all. Horace taught us all a lot of bluegrass music. The Scruggs boys came by that timing honestly. Horace and Earl used to play back-to-back, then walk to the front of the house in opposite directions. We they met at the other end of the house if they weren’t in perfect time together, they would repeat the process until they got it right. Both ended up with perfect timing.
Earl lived a long and very productive life, and changed the world of music forever. We will all miss him. He will never be forgotten, as his music legacy is so vast. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.