~ Hall of ~
Flatt & Scruggs
segment of the career of Flatt and Scruggs stands out. Their
appearances on the television shows, "The Beverly Hillbillies,"
and "Petticoat Junction," which will be rerun for
many years, introduced millions to bluegrass music. What proves
more difficult to identify are the years of musical experience
that was so necessary to their unique sound.
Lester Raymond Flatt was born at Duncan's Chapel, near the boundaries
of Putnam and Overton Counties, Tennessee, on June 19, 1914.
He learned much about the music he would play in the homes of
friends and neighbors of his family. His father played the clawhammer
style of banjo, and Lester dabbled with that instrument until
he settled on the guitar. He moved to Virginia, where he made
his living as a textile worker, finding like so many of his
generation a weekly paycheck preferable to work on the family
farm. He played in a band called The Harmonizers and appeared
on his first radio show in 1939. One of the members of those
early bands, Mac Wiseman, would figure prominently in Lester's
future. Lester and his wife, Gladys, whom he had married when
he was seventeen and she sixteen, joined Charlie Monroe's Kentucky
Partners band, where she was a singer using the name "Billie
Jean," and Lester played mandolin and sang tenor.
Lester joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1945 as the guitarist
and lead singer. The combination of his rhythm guitar work,
emphasizing the "G-run" he made famous, and lead vocals
with Bill's mandolin and soaring tenor played an invaluable
role in developing the musical style of the Blue Grass Boys.
Earl Eugene Scruggs was born January 6, 1924 in the Flint Hill
community near Shelby, North Carolina, where the three finger
style of banjo playing that Earl would popularize, was a big
part of the country or hillbilly music of those days. Earl has
said many times that his brother Junie, Snuffy Jenkins, Smith
Hammett, Rex Brooks and many others, played in that style long
before he did. He began playing the banjo at age 5, at first
in a two finger style, with the thumb and index finger. Then
he went into a bedroom of their home and practiced until he
could add the middle finger to his picking. The tune that he
played in that room for many hours was "Reuben," and
when he came out, he had it down pat. Earl played in a band
with his brothers, then began his radio career when he was fifteen
with The Carolina Wildcats. He moved to South Carolina where
he joined The Morris Brothers and worked in a textile mill during
the years of World War II. He had joined the band of "Lost
John" Miller and wound up in Nashville, Tennessee. When
Lost John decided to quit the road, Bill Monroe hired Scruggs
in late 1945, to replace Dave "Stringbean" Akeman.
Folklorist Neil V. Rosenberg notes the impact that Lester and
Earl made as members of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in his
book Bill Monroe and
his Blue Grass Boys: An Illustrated Discography (page
13): "Many Bluegrass fans, especially those who began listening
to the music in the late forties and early fifties, consider
the four Columbia recording sessions of 1946 and 1947 definitive
for Bluegrass Music. In terms of Monroe's recorded sound, the
most striking innovations in the stylistic vocabulary of the
band were the introduction of vocal trios, religious duets,
and the three fingered style banjo picking, pioneered in the
Blue Grass Boys by Earl Scruggs."
Bob Artis, author of the book Bluegrass,
described the band (page
25): "The Blue Grass Boys had been popular from the beginning
at WSM, but it was the band that included Lester Flatt, Earl
Scruggs and Chubby Wise, that really caught fire. Audiences
just couldn't believe that anyone could play the banjo like
Earl Scruggs. It was so fast and smooth, and there were so many
notes, but all the melody was right there in the shower of banjo
music. The crowds would roar every time Earl would step to the
microphone. Lester Flatt's outstanding, beautiful inflected
lead voice blended with Bill's on the duets, trios, and quartets,
as none of Monroe's lead singers had done before, and his rhythm
guitar playing, with its characteristic bass runs, gave the
band a unity of sound that was as unique as it was excellent."
This group of Bill's Blue Grass Boys recorded twenty eight songs
in four sessions, the first on September 17, 1946 and the last
on October 28, 1947. These recordings were of major importance
to the world of music. They not only established the band sound
that Bill sought, but also provided was a valuable experience
for Flatt and Scruggs. It would serve them well.
Earl Scruggs left the Monroe band in the Spring of 1948, and
just two weeks later, Lester Flatt left to return to the textile
mill in Virginia. They had no plans at this time to continue
in music, but there had been some discussion about forming their
own group while they were still with Monroe. They first played
on WDVA, Danville, Virginia, with Jim Eanes. Fiddler
Shumate did not want to leave a good job in Hickory, North Carolina.
Lester and Earl wanted him in the band, so they moved to radio
Station WHKY in Hickory. When that did not produce the desired
results after they had played there for two weeks, they followed
Mac Wiseman's suggestion to go to Bristol, Tennessee and play
on the "Farm 'N Fun Time" program on WCYB radio. It
was during their time at WCYB that they became known as, Lester
Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, with the band
name coming from the Carter Family Song, "Foggy Mountain
Top." Wiseman joined them playing guitar and singing tenor,
with Howard Watts, bass fiddle, and Jim Shumate, fiddle.
They were very quick to demonstrate that their own musical ideas
would move them into a new sound that would forever be identified
as their very own. Earl was composing banjo tunes and co-writing
songs with Lester. The vocal and instrumental drive of their
music would have far reaching effects on future Bluegrass musicians.
They selected the members of the Foggy Mountain Boys very carefully
and molded their talents within the framework of their music.
The songs and tunes that they recorded are still performed around
the world, on stage and in jam sessions. The recordings of Flatt
and Scruggs became available in many foreign countries, long
before those of Bill Monroe. Bluegrass bands in Japan, Sweden,
Australia, and other countries including the United States have
mentioned that their first exposure to Bluegrass music was the
records of Lester and Earl. Flatt and Scruggs played many radio
stations throughout the Southeastern United States in the early
days with their own band, and recorded for major record labels,
establishing themselves as a force in the music business. The
early years of their careers have been called "The Hungry
Times," since they worked hard at their music, struggling
to earn the fame and fortune that would eventually come their
way. After recording for Mercury Records during the late forties,
their first session for Columbia Records happened on November
21, 1950, in Nashville, Tennessee. Personnel were: Lester, guitar,
Earl, banjo, John Ray "Curly" Seckler, mandolin, Benny
Sims, fiddle, and Jody Rainwater, bass fiddle.
Their hard work paid great dividends when contacted by the Barry-Carter
Mill Company, which made and distributed their products under
the name, "Martha White." A bigger break could not
have occurred for Flatt and Scruggs. They were able to move
to Nashville, Tennessee, where they played the early morning
radio shows on WSM. Their "Martha White Theme Song"
kicked off each show with an enthusiasm and spirit that has
seldom been equaled. Sales of Martha White Flour and Cornmeal
increased, as did the demand for personal appearances. This
allowed them to pay a steady salary to members of their band.
The success that they were enjoying left them one major step
in music. It was the goal of every country music act to become
members of the Grand Ole Opry, but not until 1955 were they
finally accepted as members of that show.
The band had added a new instrument in 1955, when Burkett "Uncle
Josh" Graves, joined the Foggy Mountain Boys playing the
Dobro guitar. This instrument had been used in other country
style groups, but never in the way it was played with Flatt
and Scruggs. It has now become one of the "traditional"
Bluegrass instruments. Flatt and Scruggs created a powerful
on stage presentation of their music. They developed a ballet-like
routine around the one microphone used in those days that was
beautiful to observe. The following statement by "Uncle
Josh" Graves can be found in Rosenberg's book Bluegrass:
A History (pages 312-313):
had to learn that when you hit the microphone, you play wide
open, and when somebody's singing, you soften up. They used
to call us a football team at the Opry. Earl was the quarterback,
and I was the running back. Earl would hand it off to me,
and I'd cut through the hole. One time we had this boy come
inhe'd worked with us beforehe'd forgotten
the patterns that we'd run. That poor boy, I remember I caught
him on the back of the head with my Dobro neck. Liked to plumb
knock him off the stage. Flatt told him: "you'd better
learn the patterns; you're gonna get killed." It all
looked pretty from the audience:
musical careers continued to flourish. They not only had the
early morning radio shows, but at one time played live television
shows throughout the Southeast United States, driving 2500
miles a week by car. Video tape did not exist for the first
several years of their program. Their recording of the "Ballad
of Jed Clampett" was used as the theme for the popular
television show, "The Beverly Hillbillies," and
was a number one hit in 1963. The recording of "Foggy
Mountain Breakdown," made on December 12, 1949 for Mercury,
brought new recognition to Flatt and Scruggs when it was used
in the movie Bonnie
and Clyde in 1967.
The use of these songs proved not only beneficial to Flatt
and Scruggs, but created new fans for what had become known
as Bluegrass Music.
In response to the "folk craze" of the early 1960s
the recorded sound of Flatt and Scruggs was augmented by the
addition of studio musicians on drums, harmonica, and other
instruments. Retitled "Folk Music with Overdrive,"
by Alan Lomax, their sound grew quite different from the early
days. "Cousin" Jake Tullock was playing bass fiddle
and singing high harmony, Paul Warren played fiddle and sang
bass, and '"Uncle Josh" Graves played Dobro.
On February 22, 1969 Lester and Earl shocked the world of
music with the dissolution of their partnership that had lasted
twenty one years. After some legal difficulties were resolved,
it was decided that the name The Foggy Mountain Boys would
not be used by either man. Lester formed a band that was named
The Nashville 'Grass, a name chosen through a contest, and
Earl went on to form The Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons,
Randy, Gary and Steve. Louise Scruggs had done an excellent
job as the manager and booking agent for Flatt and Scruggs.
She would continue in that capacity for Earl's new group.
Accountant Lance LeRoy, a native of Tignall, Georgia, who
describes himself as a "Flatt and Scruggs Groupie,"
had moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1966. When the partnership
with Earl dissolved, Lester asked Lance to become his personal
manager, a duty he was most willing to accept. Lester, Lance,
Bob and Sonny Osborne teamed in April 1975 to form a booking
agency, Allied Entertainers, Inc. The Osborne's purchased
Lester: and Lance's portion of the agency in August, 1977.
Then Lester and Lance created The Lancer Agency, that Lance
still operates today.
Lester Flatt underwent open heart surgery, a gall bladder
operation, and suffered a brain hemorrhage prior to his death
on May 11, 1979. He had become a born again Christian, and
was heard to remark to the minister who baptized him, "Well,
Preacher, I guess that was my greatest performance."
Earl Scruggs visited Lester in the hospital at the urging
of Marty Stuart, who had played mandolin with Lester in the
Nashville 'Grass and is now a country music artist. Earl still
lives near Nashville, Tennessee, and makes rare appearances
on the Grand Ole Opry and television.
This legendary team left their mark on music far beyond bluegrass.
Musicians in the twenty first century will be using many of
the musical ideas set down by Flatt and Scruggs without knowing
the history of this, one of the most influential Bluegrass
bands of all time. Many of the young banjo players relate
that their first exposure to Bluegrass Music was when they
saw the movie Bonnie
and Clyde and heard
Earl's "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," inspiring them
to become banjo players.
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were inducted into SPBGMA's
Preservation Hall of Greats on January 25th 1985, a fitting
and just honor for all the years they spent playing their
music, still enjoyed today by their fans around the world.
The following is a very small list of the many other honors
they have received. They became members of the Country Music
Hall of Fame on October 14, 1985, and later became members
of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Hall of Fame. It seems only right
that the first inductees into the International Bluegrass
Music Association's (IBMA) Hall of Honor, in September, 1991,
in Owensboro, Kentucky, were Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and
Earl Scruggs. Plaques were presented to Bill and Earl on the
stage of the Grand Ole Opry in February, 1992, as they were
unable to be present for the ceremonies in Owensboro. Earl
Scruggs received the "1992 Medal of Art" from President
George Bush, in a ceremony at the White House, on July 22,