This article by Pete Wernick originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Banjo Newsletter, along with an interview of Earl, and tributes from other players.
Earl did something miraculous when he started a way of playing the banjo that took advantage of so many ways three fingers of a right hand could pull music out of a five string instrument with low-sustain and a high drone. Somehow, that right hand and that instrument came together to create sounds that have thrilled people worldwide for more than a half century, and that will surely continue to be heard as long as there are human beings.
Not just as the creator, but also as the deliverer of those sparkling sounds — brilliant, controlled, and seeming impossibly fast ‘- he is one of the most influential musicians who ever lived. He brought bluegrass music its signature sound, compelled hundreds of thousands to learn to play the instrument, and brought a joyous form of entertainment far and wide in a career spanning well over 60 years.
The man who did all this still lives among us with a good-natured dignity, a quiet, humor-laced outlook that has survived many hardworking years on the road, crashes, operations, personal tragedy, and not least, the Nashville music business. He and Louise not only created a lasting marriage within a family-unfriendly profession, but proudly raised three talented sons, and created a legacy of ‘family and friends’ that made them a cornerstone of their musical community.
The sounds, the accomplishments, the man himself, all are gifts to us. We in the banjo community are all in his debt. But I think we pay him back in some way just by doing the best we can as we follow in his footsteps.