Bluegrass pioneer - and half of the legendary duo Flatt & Scruggs - Earl Scruggs has passed away at the age of 88.   Although his music was more country or bluegrass in nature, his contributions to the world of rock and roll can't be denied - as rock is a derivative of country music anyway.

Scruggs died Wednesday morning at age 88 of natural causes. The legacy he helped build with bandleader Bill Monroe, guitarist Lester Flatt and the rest of the Blue Grass Boys was evident all around Nashville, where he died in an area hospital. His string-bending, mind-blowing way of picking helped transform a regional sound into a national passion.

Before Scruggs, most banjo players used the "hammer-claw" style of playing.  Scruggs introduced 3-string picking to the art-form, which helped push the instrument to places it had never gone before.

Country great Porter Wagoner probably summed up Scruggs' importance best of all: "I always felt like Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball. He is the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be."

His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as "the Scruggs picking style" and the versatility it allowed has helped popularize the banjo beyond the traditional bluegrass and country forms. Today the banjo can be found in almost any genre, largely due to the way he freed its players to experiment and find new space.