Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs - The Father of Bluegrass Music

Bill Monroe, often credited as the Father of Bluegrass music, had led his own bands since 1938, after parting company with his brothers. Briefly called the Kentuckians, he settled on the name The Bluegrass Boys in 1939. Oddly, considering what we think of as the Monroe sound today, the band often featured an accordion and did not feature a banjo player until 1942. Monroe's first banjo player was David Akeman, a musical comedian known as Stringbean. He was a "frailer" playing in the two finger style of his mentor Uncle Dave Macon.

While many of the elements that would characterize Bluegrass music were in place, it wasn't until December of 1945, when Earl Scruggs stepped into the studio to join the Monroe band, that the sound was complete. The tracks that Monroe recorded in 1946 and 1947, like "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Molly and Tenbrooks" and "Bluegrass Breakdown," further defined the genera as we know it today.

Of course, no one person can create a genera but the story of Bluegrass Music is more complex than the idea that Monroe created it single handed leads one to believe. Yes, Bill Monroe was playing great music before Earl's arrival but it was not significantly different from the music played by hundreds of bands all across the south. When Scruggs joined the band with his innovative three finger style of banjo, the band became something truly different.

Perhaps calling Earl Scruggs the Father of Bluegrass Music is over simplifying things as well. What I think we can safely say is that without Earl Scruggs there would not be Bluegrass Music as we know it today.

Earl passed away quietly in a hospital in Nashville yesterday but he lives on in the playing of Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Allison Brown and hundreds of thousands banjo players not just here but around the world. I can think of no better legacy.

~ Dave Palmater

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