One of the greatest of American musicians has died.
From the New York Times obituary today:
Earl depended on a two-fingered picking style until he was about 10. Then one day he found himself picking a song called “Lonesome Ruben” (or “Ruben’s Train”) using three fingers instead of two — the thumb, index and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to master.
He learned to emphasize melody by plucking it with his strong thumb in syncopation with harmonic notes picked with his first two fingers. The sound was like thumbtacks plinking rhythmically on a tin roof…
At an 80th birthday party for Mr. Scruggs in 2004, the country singer Porter Wagoner said, “Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball.”
“He is the best there ever was,” Mr. Wagoner said, “and the best there ever will be.”
I don’t know much about baseball, but I do know that that sounds very, very true. I cannot be sure when I first heard Scruggs’s music, but it was probably while driving around Tennessee at some point in the 1980s. What I do remember is that when I did, I changed direction and headed straight for a record store in Nashville, and left there a little later a touch poorer, and a lot richer.
There’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown up over at Alex Massie’s place.
Of course there is.
The best there ever was.
Thank you, Mr. Scruggs.