Earl Eugene Scruggs is a musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a 3-finger style on the 5-string banjo that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music. Although other musicians had played in 3-finger style before him, Scruggs shot to prominence when he was hired by Bill Monroe to fill the banjo slot in the “Blue Grass Boys”. Scruggs built on earlier styles to develop a truly new and readily identifiable style, involving: unprecedented smoothness, syncopation, and uninterrupted flow; a large vocabulary of unique and original licks; blues and jazz phrases, evident in backup and in solos such as “Foggy Mountain Special;” and an overall coherency and polish that other stylists lacked, which inspired imitation by newer generations of banjo pickers.
Scruggs was born in Shelby, North Carolina, to Georgia Lula Ruppe and George Elam Scruggs. Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in late 1945 and his syncopated, three-finger picking style quickly became a sensation. In 1948 Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt left Monroe’s band and formed the Foggy Mountain Boys. In 1969, Flatt and Scruggs broke up and Scruggs started a new band, the Earl Scruggs Revue, featuring several of his sons.
On September 24, 1962 singer Jerry Scoggins, Flatt, and Scruggs recorded “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies which was released October 12, 1962. The theme song became an immediate country music hit and was played at the beginning and end of each episode. Flatt and Scruggs appeared in several episodes as family friends of the Clampetts in the following years. In their first appearance, season 1 episode 20, they portray themselves in the show and perform both the theme song and “Pearl Pearl Pearl”.
Flatt and Scruggs won a Grammy Award in 1969 for Scruggs’ instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. They were inducted together into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1989, Scruggs was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship. He was an inaugural inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991. In 1992, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.