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Earl Scruggs died Wednesday morning at a Nashville hospital. He was 88.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of Earl Scruggs to American music,” began one tribute to Earl Scruggs this morning. And that may be an understatement. 

Scruggs perfected a “string-bending, mind-blowing” way of picking a banjo, adopted from players around his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, and then took it to the world. He and his picking partner, guitarist Lester Flatt, provided the music for both the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” (the getaway song was “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”) and the title song for the clownish television series The Beverly Hillbillies.

(Above, you can see Scruggs play with his son Randy, Doc Watson and Merle Watson at Watson’s North Carolina home.)

Scruggs also crossed boundaries, musical and cultural. Peter Cooper writes in the Nashville Tennesseean: 

But Mr. Scruggs’ legacy is in no way limited to or defined by bluegrass, a genre that he and partner Lester Flatt dominated as Flatt & Scruggs in the 1950s and ’60s: His adaptability and open-minded approach to musicality and to collaboration made him a bridge between genres and generations.

During the long-hair/short-hair skirmishes of the ’60s and ’70s, he simply showed up and played, with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Byrds. And when staunch fans of bluegrass — a genre that would not exist in a recognizable form without Mr. Scruggs’ banjo — railed against stylistic experimentation, Mr. Scruggs happily jammed away with sax player King Curtis, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, piano man Elton John and anyone else whose music he fancied.

“He was the man who melted walls, and he did it without saying three words,” said his friend and acolyte Marty Stuart in 2000.

He joined Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band, the Blue Grass Boys, in December 1945. He was 21.

Scruggs played with Monroe for two years, earning $60 a week and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. In early 1948, Scruggs and Flatt left Monroe, tired of the endless travel and low pay. Monroe was so angry he refused to talk with the two players for the next 20 years.

Scruggs and Flatt put together their own band (The Foggy Mountain Boys), appearing on the Opry and, in 1959, at the Newport Folk Festival. That instigated a growing popularity of Bluegrass music among non-country fans. It was a transition made easier by Scruggs’ easy demeanor and open mind. Scruggs played on bills with Steppenwolf and James Taylor and he played at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in Washington in 1969.

(The Tennesseean has a tremendous biography of Scruggs, here.)

The New York Times reported

At an 80th birthday party for Mr. Scruggs in 2004, the country singer Porter Wagoner said, “Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball.” “He is the best there ever was,” Mr. Wagoner said, “and the best there ever will be.”

• There’s been a lot written on the upcoming Final Four basketball game between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. Let’s face it, at heart this is a rural/urban rivalry. 

We grew up in Louisville and can tell you the residents of that great city just barely consent to being Kentuckians. And people “out in the state” (as Louisvillians say) know it. 

The rural/urban rivalry is not now reflected in the players or the coaches. They are all (or mostly) urban. But that’s where the rivalry started, between a rural state and its largest city. 

• An economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank says banks are larger than they were before the financial collapse of 2008. 

They have “increased oligopoly power” and “remain difficult to control because they have the lawyers and the money to resist the pressures of federal regulation,”  wrote Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s research department. 

• Individual schools in North Dakota don’t have enough kids to form high school marching bands, so they worked together to create the Southwest Marching Band, reports School Band and Orchestra magazine. 

“I was talking with the band director of South Heart High School, another small school in the area,” recalls Catie Hoselton, band director at Belfield High School, which has a student population of 120. “We were thinking how great it would be to go to the Bismarck Band Night parade, but we really can’t go because we each only had about 20 kids in our programs. So we thought, ‘What if we put our bands together and march them down the street?’”

The rest is music…and marching!

• The Kentucky legislature has exempted the Amish from state requirements that bright orange safety triangles be placed on their horse-drawn buggies. 

Amish objected to the triangle shape, saying it represented the Trinity, which they are not permitted to display.

• Eric Mack at c/net is writing a series of stories about “Bringing broadband to the boonies.”  Here is his take so far:

By now you may have noticed a reoccurring theme in this series: a lack of initial and follow-on investment in rural telecommunications infrastructure. It’s neither a surprise nor anything new — in the past it’s taken acts of Congress and scads of funding to first electrify and then connect (almost) all of rural America by a simple copper telephone line.

• New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said we shouldn’t worry about getting broadband to rural communities. Will Truman thinks otherwise

He makes the very good point that software developers will be writing for speeds found in the major urban centers. If too big a gap in speed emerges between Silicon Valley and the rest of the country, there’s going to be a problem in getting new systems to work across the country.

In fact, Truman says, there already is a problem. 

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