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Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain BreakdownThe Making of an American Classic$
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Thomas Goldsmith

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042966

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042966.001.0001

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“Like a Jackhammer”—How the Tune Works

“Like a Jackhammer”—How the Tune Works

Chapter:
(p.60) 9 “Like a Jackhammer”—How the Tune Works
Source:
Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Author(s):

Thomas Goldsmith

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5622/illinois/9780252042966.003.0009

The driving 1949 recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” showcased the groundbreaking banjo style that Scruggs developed in North Carolina. Beginning with a “pinch”—two strings hit strongly at once, the tune takes off, rocketing through 16 bars and 3 chords over and over, with only Scruggs and fiddler Benny Sims taking solos. Guitarist Lester Flatt makes prominent use of his characteristic “G-run” and elsewhere seems to hit E major chords where everyone else plays E minor. It’s a musical oddity that shows the relative novelty of minor chords in bluegrass, as well as creating an ear-catching sound. A section by section listen to the tune brings out Scruggs’s to-the-walls intensity as well as diversions such as a musical nod to “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”

Keywords:   Earl Scruggs, banjo, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Tim O’Brien, Lester Flatt, Benny Sims, minor chord, “drive”, Warren Beatty, Jim Mills

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