Category: banjo

Earl Scruggs, bluegrass legend, dies at age 88

Lu8zlipdBluegrass legend and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, who helped profoundly change country music with Bill Monroe in the 1940s and later with guitarist Lester Flatt, has died. He was 88.

Scruggs' son Gary said his father died of natural causes Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

Earl Scruggs was an innovator who pioneered the modern banjo sound. His use of three fingers rather than the clawhammer style elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or a comedian's prop — to a lead instrument.

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2012

His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as “the Scruggs picking style” and the versatility it allowed has helped popularize the banjo in almost every genre of music.

Scruggs, born Jan. 6, 1924, in Flint Hill, N.C., learned to play banjo at age 4. He appeared at age 11 on a radio talent scout show. By age 15, he was playing in bluegrass bands.

“My music came up from the soil of North Carolina,” Scruggs said in 1996 when he was honored with a heritage award from his home state.

The Times will have more on his life and career shortly.


Share a memory of Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs lets his banjo do the talking

Woody Guthrie is celebrated with a concert

-- Associated Press

Photo: Earl Scruggs, performed with his band, which included his two sons, at UCLA's Royce Hall in 2011. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Quick Chat: With Steve Martin

Steve Martin discusses the Grammy Awards, banjo playing and the Stagecoach Festival.

Quick Chat: With Steve Martin
Actor-comedian-musician Steve Martin has won four Grammys over just as many decades — two awards for comedy albums and two for his work as a banjo player. He’s up again for best bluegrass album with his band Steep Canyon Rangers (Martin and band play the Stagecoach Festival in April). The multi-tasking performer shared his Grammy hopes and fears, as well as thoughts about his forthcoming book, “The Ten, Make that Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make that Ten. The Tweets of Steve Martin,” with Pop and Hiss.

One more Grammy and you’ll catch up Taylor Swift. Is the prospect of winning another still exciting?

I want to win not only for the glory and the pleasure of defeating the other nominees, but also for the glory and the pleasure of defeating the other nominees.

Do you have an acceptance speech planned?

I don’t, but I do have a copy of Alison Krauss’ acceptance speech for her last 37 wins.

PHOTOS: Grammys 2012: Top nominees

Are you friendly with the other nominees in the bluegrass category?

I have met all of them and liked all of them until now.

Are there banjo “beefs” similar to those in the rap world?

Similar, except we use poison.

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For ‘Winter’s Bone’ music, an extended season

Marideth Sisco and Blackberry Winter are playing traditional Ozark Mountains music, featured in the evocative 2010 film, on a tour that stops this week in Hollywood.


What happens when you’re a musician who can qualify for the senior discount at the Denny’s in West Plains, Mo., but your craft is sparking passionate letters from around the globe? You load yourself and your fellow Ozarkian merrymakers in a 15-person van and you tour the country as the Amazing Geriatric Hillbilly Tour.

That’s singer Marideth Sisco’s name for the unlikely criss-cross she and the other members of the band, Blackberry Winter, are making on a North American tour officially known as Winter’s Bone: Music From the Film Performed Live.

“Due to our advanced age,” Sisco, 67, said from outside Vancouver, Canada, where they were due to perform later that night, “we have a different schedule than most. We have two weeks on, and then a week of rest. We get tuckered out easily.”

Before their weeklong siesta, Sisco and five other musicians, with banjo, Dobro guitar and mandolin in tow, will come to the Masonic Hall at Hollywood Forever cemetery Tuesday night to perform traditional Ozark Mountains music as well as original songs from the soundtrack to “Winter’s Bone.”

John Hawkes, one of the grit-eyed stars who also lent the same intensity to HBO’s poetic western series “Deadwood,” will join them for a spell, at least to sing his penned contribution, “Bred and Buttered.”

The 2010 film, based on the 2006 Daniel Woodrell book of the same title, is an austere, sometimes brutal tale of the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in the Ozarks region. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, Ree Dolly, the film’s young heroine, is on a search for her missing father that sends her deep into the pits and hollows of the icy landscape.

Directed by Debra Granik, “Winter’s Bone” nabbed the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury prize and proved to be a breakout vehicle for Lawrence, but she isn’t the only one who attracted wider interest. As the movie’s momentum grew, especially among the European film festival circuit, so did curiosity about the musicians featured in an early scene, one of the few bright lights to penetrate the film’s somber mood.

“This is in sharp contrast to my urban life,” Granik said from her home in Manhattan, “but in this vast, sprawling country of ours, there are regions where there is time and tradition reserved for music. At first, we worried that it might be going too far to include it, but it would be common and normal for musicians to be playing together on any old night of the week — that’s true to the world.”

The sight of Sisco and her pals playing in a ramshackle house on an ordinary evening functions as a notable contrast to the horrific consequences of addiction. “Meth is a part of the culture,” Sisco said, “but it’s not that much a part of it. There’s an attachment to family and the land, and Debra captured that.”

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