Earl Scruggs died today

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POSTED: March 29, 2012

For no reason at all I have been delving into Flatt and Scruggs lengthy discography recently. Sadly only one of them managed to make the transition into post-hippy country music with particular flair. Lester Flatt was dragging his feet while Earl Scruggs was enthusiastic and embraced what he saw as new freedom.

Their 1968 album Nashville Airplane is not necessarily an outstanding album but is definitely interesting. In the extreme. It begins with a version of Like a Rolling Stone that translates it into a pure bluegrass and was a much more radical reinvention at the time than it might sound today. The same can be said about their version of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. The banjo work on that is amazing!

Allegedly this difference of opinion was the main reason that the partnership up, and shortly afterwards they both went solo: Scruggs with a fluctuating group of family and friends and Flatt with a new band called Nashville Grass. The album Earl Scruggs performs with his family & friends that followed this was similarly adventurous, although there are times when the friends predominate and he almost sounds like a guest at his own party.

A late sixties album cover

Having said that he continued to make interesting music, continued to modernise his sound without losing its foundations, and was an astoundingly influential figure in twentieth century music. He and Lester Flatt practically invented bluegrass. Steve Martin was quoted today as saying

A grand part of American music owes a debt to Earl Scruggs. Few players have changed the way we hear an instrument the way Earl has, putting him in a category with Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix.

I could not agree more.