When Bill Monroe came up with bluegrass — “this high, lonesome sound,” as people called it at the time — banjo players used the clawhammer style. They flailed with their fingers and hands to play chords. But when Earl Scruggs, sitting on his porch in North Carolina, grabbed his guitar picks and started to strum — creating the crisp twangs we know today — he changed bluegrass forever. Banjo playing would not be what it is without Scruggs, who died March 28 at 88. A bluegrass band will percolate along with a really cool sound, then all of a sudden, boom — there goes the banjo. It’s an exciting, acoustic, percussive sound, and it was all developed by him. So when I play, I think of Earl Scruggs, because he was the banjo.
Bonsall is a banjo player for the Oak Ridge Boys
This text originally appeared in the Apr. 16, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
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