Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

The Way Earl DIDN'T Do Foggy Mtn. Breakdown

OK, so I’ve been monkeying around on the old five string with everybody’s favorite “Yee-haw!!” song, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

I thought I would go to the original 1949 recording and see how Earl did it. I slowed it down to 50% and tried playing along. (Fat chance!)
What I noticed was it sounded funny, so I put it back to 100% and it still sounded odd, like it was in a different key. I would have bet money it was in G, so I did a little looking around. Turns out -

Flatt & Scruggs (1949 - the original recording) - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step higher than standard.)

Flatt & Scruggs (1968 - used for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Bonnie And Clyde’) - key of G

Earl Scruggs & Friends (2001 - won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance of the Year) - key of G

Thanks to the Idaho Bluegrass Association for the information.

Now I know the next time someone says, “That’s not the way Earl would do it,” I can honestly say, “Earl didn’t do it the way Earl did!” :grin:


F&S tuned a 1/2 step high on a lot of their earlier recordings.


Yep, most of the early Flatt & Scruggs recordings were tuned up a half step because Lester liked to sing in G# and Bb early on, but his voice lowered for the later recordings. I always like to tune up a half step for FMBD, etc. :slight_smile:


I like to play I Am a Pilgrim in Ab. Just sounds better to my ear.


Hey, I can play FMB a lot of ways that Earl didn’t play it. :slight_smile:


On that '49 recording Lester played an E major chord most of the time. It makes an interesting contrast to the Em on the banjo.