(CNN) -- Earl Scruggs, whose distinctive picking style and association with Lester Flatt cemented bluegrass music's place in popular culture, died Wednesday of natural causes at a Nashville hospital, his son Gary Scruggs said. He was 88.
For many of a certain age, Scruggs' banjo was part of the soundtrack of an era on "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" -- the theme song from the CBS sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies," which aired on CBS from 1962 to 1971 and for decades afterward in syndication.
But much more than that, he popularized a three-finger picking style that brought the banjo to the fore in a supercharged genre, and he was an indispensable member of the small cadre of musical greats who created modern bluegrass music.
Scruggs was born in 1924 to a musically gifted family in rural Cleveland County, North Carolina, according to his official biography. His father, a farmer and a bookkeeper, played the fiddle and banjo, his mother was an organist and his older siblings played guitar and banjo, as well.
Young Earl's exceptional gifts were apparent early on. He started playing the banjo at age 4 and he started developing his three-finger style at the age of 10.
Here is a classic Beverly Hillbillies clip of Flatt and Scruggs live. It's a bit uncomfortable watching Miss Jane and this other lady sing, but Jed's 'buck dancing' is beautiful, as are Flatt & (pictured right with banjo) Scruggs.