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RIP Earl Scruggs: Bluegrass Legend, Beverly Hillbillies Theme Composer Dead at 88

Earl Scruggs Karl Walter/Getty Images

Let us tell you a little story about a man named Earl Scruggs.

The prolific bluegrass artist, who popularized the three-finger method of banjo-picking that came to be known as "Scruggs style," joined his first band when he was a teenager and continued to make music and friends all his life.

"Earl Scruggs, the most important banjo player who ever lived, has passed on," Steve Martin tweeted after news broke that Scruggs had died Wednesday morning of natural causes. He was 88.

The North Carolina native released at least 29 live and studio albums over the years. And whether or not you know it, you almost certainly are familiar with his most widely heard composition.

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Scruggs wrote the music and recorded "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," aka The Beverly Hillbillies theme song, with Lester Flatt and singer Jerry Scoggins.

Scruggs won his first Grammy in 1969 for the instrumental "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and followed up with his second in 2002 for yet another recording of the song—featuring Martin on second banjo, Paul Shaffer, Leon Russell, Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Marty Stuart—for 2001's Earl Scruggs and Friends.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2008.

"We're saddened by Earl Scruggs' passing. He truly helped create the bluegrass sound & we're forever grateful. Prayers for his family," read a tweet from the Grand Ole Opry.

"I just got the word that my friend Earl Scruggs has passed away," tweeted Charlie Daniels. "He meant a lot to me. Nobody will ever play a 5 string banjo like Earl."

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"We are saddened to hear that the great Earl Scruggs has passed," tweeted bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent. "Earl was a huge inspiration to us and to the millions who loved him. Bluegrass music has suffered a terrible loss today, as well as the entire music industry. His family is in our prayers."

Scruggs' wife of 57 years, Louise, died in 2006. He is survived by two sons, Gary and Randy.

"The man who made this sound, Rest in Peace Earl Scruggs. The angel band is flying tonight," offered Asheville, N.C., bluegrass group the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Added This Is Spinal Tap star Michael McKean: "RIP Uncle Earl Scruggs."

"Some nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his fingertips," Martin wrote in an article in the Jan. 12 issue of The New Yorker called "The Master From Flint Hill: Earl Scruggs." "Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did, or at least tried."

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