Within a couple of months, we said goodbye to two of the great banjo players in the world. Earl Scruggs, the father of three finger picking, and Doug Dillard, one of the great melodic banjo players and an artist who popularized bluegrass as well as country rock music, have passed on. These two banjo icons provided a childhood of memories for me as well as others.
It is hard to dispute the legendary status of Earl Scruggs. It can be argued that no one musician has had more of an individual impact on how an instrument would be played or on the banjoists who have since played it. Born January 6, 1924 in Flint Hill, North Carolina, Earl would become the father of three finger picking style bluegrass banjo. While other three finger players existed prior to Earl, no one has come close to mastering his style. There is not enough space to write about the accomplishments of Earl Scruggs. On March 28, 2012, every banjo player must have had a tear in their eye when they heard of Earl’s passing. He influenced many and his music will provide a life time of memories.
To those not as familiar with banjo players, Doug Dillard may not be as recognizable as the great Earl Scruggs but he too was a great artist. Born March 6, 1937 in Salem, Missouri, Doug Dillard was a truly gifted banjo player. He and his brother Rodney settled in Los Angeles and was signed with Elektra Records, a folk-rock label, with their debut album entitled “Back Porch Bluegrass”. They were an opening act for the Byrds (a band that Doug later would join as part of their European tour) and departed from strict bluegrass traditions by electrifying their instruments. Doug died on May 16, 2012.
Every banjo player includes a Flatt and Scruggs tune as part of their set list. It is as if every banjo player owes Earl the respect of playing his music. A banjo player knows that they will never be able to play the tune the way Earl played it, yet they give it their best effort. As for Doug Dillard, one of my favorite songs I play on the banjo is “Doug’s Tune” and it is a regular part of my repertoire. I still have an album of Doug Dillard with the late great John Hartford. The album was entitled “Dillard Hartford Dillard” and I wore the grooves off it.
Both Earl and Doug had something in common. They both brought the sound of the banjo to the masses in their television and video appearances. Hardly anyone fails to recognize the Theme to the Beverly Hillbillies, the popular TV show of the 60s and 70s. Earl brought the banjo to both the TV and the movie screen. If you ever watched the movie Bonnie & Clyde, you will remember the car chase scenes with Earl’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown playing in the background. Also, childhood memories are restored to many who will recognize Doug Dillard as the banjo player of the Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show.
Please feel free to share your memories and experiences with these two gifted artists by posting below. Earl and Doug may be gone but the gift of music they left will be treasured for many years to come. Goodbye Earl and Doug. We’ll miss you.