Banjo picking legend Earl Scruggs passes away

FILE - In this July 30, 2011 file photo, Earl Scruggs performs at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, File)

FILE - In this July 30, 2011 file photo, Earl Scruggs performs at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WVLT) -- Bluegrass legend and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, who teamed helped profoundly change country music with Bill Monroe and later with guitarist Lester Flatt, has died. He was 88.

Scruggs' son Gary said his father passed away Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital. Gary Scruggs said his father died of natural causes.

The elder Scruggs was an innovator who pioneered modern banjo sound. His use of three fingers rather than the claw hammer style elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section -- or a comedian's prop -- to a lead instrument.

His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as "the Scruggs picking style." It was perhaps most prominently displayed on the iconic theme from "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Scruggs was also a regular at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris over the years. That was where Alan Williams caught up with him and talked to him about his unique playing style.

"I started playing three finger style when I was playing around 9 or 10 years old. It's been rewarding because I've never been happy doing anything else other than picking the banjer."

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