Ubi dubium ibi libertas! - Anonymous Latin proverb
Banjo player Steve Martin wrote a fitting eulogy in The New Yorker. I will miss Earl’s unmistakable banjo and gentle sense of humor…
I was deeply saddened to hear this news. I started playing banjo at about age 15. I went to a discount store and found Foggy Mountain Banjo on a 33 LP. That has become "The Banjo" album for uncountably many banjo pickers. My dad had an old turntable that you could slow down to 16rpm. I'd play that record at that speed after having tuned my banjo down to match Earl's recorded pitch. I'd try to pick out every note. Later, I'd buy Earl's book and learn even more. That's a path that every banjo picker alive strode down. After marriage and kids, I didn't pick much and hadn't picked my banjo up at all in probably 6 or 7 years. Then, a couple years ago my late father went to see Earl at Merlefest in North Wilkesboro, NC. My aunt stood in line to get an autograph from the man himself. When she told Earl that her nephew "used to play the banjo", he signed his photograph, "Keep on pickin, Mike. Earl Scruggs." When I received that photo, I knew I had to pick that banjo up again. I have ever since I first saw that picture and I won't put it down again until they throw dirt on my face. I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm getting there. I have an online account with Tony Trischka's school of banjo and regularly hear from him. This is uniquely American music played with a uniquely American instrument. The giants in this genre (of which none are or were larger than Earl) have always been very approachable to their fans. I met Earl Scruggs only once. I stood in the autograph line and when I got up to the man he said, "What would you like me to write?" I said, "I don't want you to write anything. I want something I can remember. I want to shake your hand." A giant, wide smile came across his face and he stuck out his hand. "Do you pick" he asked. "Yes, sir. But nothing like you do. Nobody can." That was roughly 35 years ago. I was right that no one could pick like him and no one ever will.
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