a couple of white banjo players


Our reading referred to Earl Scruggs, the man who partially invented and almost single handedly popularized the bluegrass banjo style. After playing with Bill Monroe, he and Lester Flatt broke off to form Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. I kept hearing about Earl Scruggs and “Scruggs style banjo” for a long time before I ever heard him play. That was at Newport in 1959 or 1960. The first time I heard him I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement. He played so fast, with such a deadpan expression! For me, he more than lived up to his reputation. Here is a link to Earl Scruggs on Youtube. He and Lester Flatt start out with “Hey, Hey, Hey,” a Woody Guthrie song (!) that they added to their country repertoire when they started playing cities and campuses in the North, and go on to “Flint Hill special”, a class bluegrass intrumental. Watch him “play” the special tuning pegs he invented, called “Scruggs pegs.” They were part of what made his sound distinctive and soon every bluegrass player had to have them.

Of course, Scruggs was outdone by those who came after, including some outstanding urban revivalists like Eric Weissberg and Bill Keith. Here’s a famous piece by Eric Weissberg called “Dueling Banjos” (it’s really a banjo and a guitar). It was the opening theme for the movie “Deliverance”. The first part is kind of warm up but after a  minute or so, Weissberg really takes off.

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