Flatt & Scruggs: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
Legendary bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs died last week at the age of 88, after more than 60 years as a performing musician. Scruggs pretty much set the standard for all banjo players to come, defining a style that became synonymous with his name. He was best known for his work with Lester Flatt, as one half of Flatt & Scruggs, but had helped to define the sound of bluegrass even earlier, when he joined Bill Monroe as one of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. He and Flatt, who was also in that group, struck out on their own after a couple of years with Monroe to form their own Foggy Mountain Boys (and in doing so resulted in Monroe’s shunning of them for the next 20 years). Together, they popularized bluegrass more than any other act, and Scruggs’ three-finger playing style influenced popular music (including rock) for years to come. (Listen to his playing and then compare it to heavy metal shredders — it’s not all that far removed.)
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is Scruggs’ signature tune, first recorded in 1949, showcasing his unbelievably fast banjo picking style. It’s a bluegrass standard, beloved by every banjo player since. You’ve undoubtedly heard it somewhere, and probably figured it was a tune that had no author, existing just as it was ever since the banjo was invented. But it’s a Scruggs original — and all you need to do to understand Earl Scruggs’s greatness is to listen to it closely and just imagine how fast those fingers would have to be flying to play it.