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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

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

Thomas Goldsmith

University of Illinois Press

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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