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US bluegrass banjo legend Scruggs dies at 88

29 march 2012, 13:30
Earl Scrugg. Photo courtesy of billboard.com
Earl Scrugg. Photo courtesy of billboard.com
Earl Scruggs, the American banjo legend who brought bluegrass to a mass audience and strummed along to a hit TV show and movie in the 1960s, has died at 88, AFP reports according to his son.

As part of the famed Flatt & Scruggs duo, the banjo player helped define bluegrass music -- a country genre combining vocal harmonies and the playful, jazz-like interplay of guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles.

"He was one of the first and the best three-finger banjo player," fellow bluegrass veteran Ralph Stanley, 85, said of Scruggs Wednesday night in a statement. "He did more for the five-string banjo than anyone I know."

Scruggs and Lester Flatt shot to fame with the memorable theme song of the 1960s television hit "The Beverly Hillbillies," and their "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," written by Scruggs, accompanied the chase scenes in the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde."

"Bonny and Clyde" star and producer Warren Beatty had requested that Flatt & Scruggs do the theme music for the film. The song became an instant hit and the duo went on to win their first Grammy award.

More than 30 years later, filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen named the bluegrass band in their 2000 film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou," the Soggy Bottom Boys, a clear allusion to Flatt & Scruggs's Foggy Mountain Boys band.

Starting in the 1960s, Scruggs played alongside numerous music legends, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Byrds, Elton John, The Eagles' Don Henley and John Fogerty.

He also inspired comedian Steve Martin, who worked the banjo into his act and played alongside Scruggs in 2005 on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Flatt & Scruggs were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.

Earl Eugene Scruggs was born January 6, 1924, in Flint Hill, North Carolina, and began playing the banjo at the age of four following the death of his father, who also played the instrument.

He is survived by sons Gary -- who announced the bluegrass legend's death from natural causes late Wednesday -- and Randy. His wife Louise died in 2006, and his son Steve died in 1992.

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