October 17, 2019

THE END OF CLAWHAMMER TIME:

Why Earl Scruggs was the Beethoven of the banjo (Emma John, 11 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

Scruggs was the most influential banjo player there has ever been: he was banjo's Bach, Beethoven and Bob Dylan all rolled into one. He pioneered the three-finger style of picking responsible for the sound you hear whenever you think of the instrument's fleet-fingered, jangling sound. Until then, banjo players was played in the traditional "clawhammer" style - Scruggs's use of the third finger allowed him to play the driving arpeggios that we associate with banjo music today.

And it was his virtuosity that brought banjo to the forefront of the newly emergent country music of the 1940s, where it had previously been an instrument of accompaniment (just like the guitar, or, as they say in the mountains, gee-tar). That new music was bluegrass, and Scruggs made banjo its defining sound. As the comedian Steve Martin wrote last year, in a tribute to his bluegrass mentor: "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." Scruggs's legacy is a sound that Martin could describe in just one word: "Unmistakable".

Posted by at October 17, 2019 5:38 AM

  

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