R.I.P. Earl Scruggs, Banjo Legend and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Regular

Earl Scruggs, the North Carolina-born banjo legend who was a regular at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival, died at a Nashville hospital this morning, according to news reports. He was 88.

Known as part of a seminal duo with guitarist and mandolin player Lester Flatt (who died in 1979), Earl Scruggs helped popularize bluegrass music in the United States. His influence was so great that the three-fingered banjo style is now known as the “Scruggs style.”

Scruggs was also a favorite of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass founder and fellow banjo player Warren Hellman, who passed away last December. Scruggs played at every Hardly Strictly since 2005. And four years ago, according to festival booker Dawn Holliday, Scruggs asked Hellman to join him onstage for “Solder's Joy.”

“It made Warren's life,” Holliday says. “At that point Warren had only been playing a couple of years, and he was scared to death.”

The performance went off without a hitch — if anything, Holliday says, Hellman's obsessive practice helped him play faster than Scruggs. Afterward, Scruggs gave Hellman a red bolo tie that Hellman wore every subsequent time his band the Wronglers played Hardly Strictly.

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