Legendary bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs has died. According to The Associated Press, he died of natural causes in a Nashville hospital. He was 88 years old.
"Scruggs Style", a three-fingered banjo plucking technique, was invented by Scruggs. The frenetic pace laid the groundwork for what would become modern bluegrass music.
"We had a banjo in our home. My father played old-style banjo, so I had a banjo there, and my brother Horace had a guitar, and so we just started playing just old tunes that we'd heard before," said Scruggs in 2003. "And then a little later we'd got a Sears Roebuck radio and started listening to some — mainly the Grand Ole Opry and some programs like that. But as far as the style of banjo that I play, nobody had played it before me."
Scruggs first came to national attention as a member of Flatt and Scruggs, a group he founded in 1948. Their hit "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was featured in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde."
Scruggs became one of the most visible stars of the 1960s country music scene. In 1969, he broke ranks with the traditionally conservative Nashville music scene by performing "Rocky Mountain Breakdown" in Washington D.C. in support of the activist group "Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam." He was widely considered the first anti-war country musician to take a public stand on the issue.
"I think the people in the South is just as concerned as the people that's walkin' the streets here today," he said at the time. "I'm sincere about bringing our boys back home. I'm disgusted and in sorrow about the boys we've lost over there. And if I could see a good reason to continue, I wouldn't be here today."
While perhaps best known as the composer of the theme song of the popular television program "The Beverly Hillbillies", Scruggs was an influential icon for bluegrass enthusiasts. Steve Martin, actor and banjo player, credits Earl Scruggs with introducing him to the instrument.
"Well, I think the story is so similar for everybody," Martin said. "We heard a record once — I was 17 — and I heard Earl Scruggs play. I just went, 'Oh!' So I bought a banjo for 200 bucks. I still have it."