ARTS AND FEATURES — 31 July 2014

flatt and scruggs

Shelley Marsden checks out a new 4-CD set from bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs

Foggy Mountain Gold (Proper Music) is a brand new 4-CD release from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The pair, who first found fame as part of Bill Monroe’s famous Blue Grass Boys, then as an act in their own right are two of the most important figures in the bluegrass movement.

Their early work with Monroe and subsequent records with the Foggy Mountain Boys laid the blueprint for the genre – and this bulky release, containing a whopping 100 tracks, is a collection of the best of that material, such as Pearl Pearl Pearl, Petticoat Junction and Polka on a Banjo.

The release also comes with a 32 page booklet including the full biographical back-story of guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs, discographical information and a series of rare photos.

The Foggy Mountain Boys were originally formed in 1948 by Flatt, who brought Scruggs with him shortly after leaving Monroe’s bluegrass band. In various forms and line-ups, Flatt and Scruggs and recorded and performed together right up until 1969.

FAMOUS NUMBERS

Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which has won two Grammy awards, is an instrumental originally released in 1949, which was used in many rural car chase film sequences, notably in Bonnie and Clyde. Parts of the song can be heard in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus Killer Sheep sketch in the episode entitled The Attila The Hun Show.

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Their song The Ballad of Jed Clampett was also the theme for the Beverly Hillbillies TV series, and reached No. 42 on the record charts during the series’ debut season in 1962. The song went to No. 1 on the country charts in January 1963 – becoming the only number one of their career.

Although it featured various casts, during the years of The Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs Grand Ole Opry Show (sponsored by grain and flour producer Martha White), the band showcased fiddle player Paul Warren, a master Old-Time and Bluegrass fiddler, whose technique reflected ‘the bluegrass breakdown’ and fast bowing style; dobro player Uncle Josh Graves, stand-up bass player Cousin Jake Tullock and mandolinist Curly Seckler.

Scruggs is widely considered the most influential player of the bluegrass banjo who ever lived. Playing since the age of five, Scruggs gained his initial spotlight when he played briefly with Bill Monroe, considered by many as the father of bluegrass music. His lightening fast syncopation and virtuosity wove themselves into an innovative three finger picking style that became the standard for mastering the instrument.

Scruggs, who had always been more experimental than his musical partner,  in later years experimented on duets with saxophonist King Curtis and added songs by the likes of Bob Dylan to the group’s repertoire. Flatt, a traditionalist, didn’t like this one bit, and the group split up in 1969. Following the breakup, Flatt founded the Nashville Grass and Scruggs led the Earl Scruggs Revue.

In the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? the band formed by the heroes is called the Soggy Bottom Boys as a tribute to the band. Flatt died in 1979, at the age of 64. Flatt and Scruggs were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. Scruggs died from natural causes on March 28, 2012, in a Nashville hospital.

 

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