All Music Guide, Volume
1, # 1
by David Vinopal
Probably the most famous bluegrass band of all time was Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. They made the genre famous in ways that not even Bill Monroe, who pretty much invented the sound, ever could. Because of a guitar player and vocalist from Tennessee named Lester Flatt and an extraordinary banjo player from North Carolina named Earl Scruggs, bluegrass music has become popular the world over and has entered the mainstream in the world of music.
Like so many other bluegrass legends, Flatt and Scruggs were graduates
of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. Because of the unique sound they added
("overdrive," one critic called it), Monroe felt let down after Flatt's
quality vocalsand Scruggs's banjo leads left in 1948. Quickly the two assembled
a band that in the opinion of many was among the best ever, with Chubby
Wise on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater on bass; a later band, with Paul Warren
on fiddle and
Josh Graves on dobro, was equally superb. With so many extraordinary musicians and the solid, controlled vocals of Flatt, it's no wonder the Foggy Mountain Boys was the band that brought bluegrass to international prominence. From 1948 until 1969, when Flatt and Scruggs split up to pursue different musical directions, they were the bluegrass band, due to their Martha White Flour segment at the Opry and, especially, their tremendous exposure from TV and movies.
TV's preeminent hillbilly sitcom, "The Beverly Hillbillies," helped Flatt
and Scruggs (and bluegrass) immensely. In the early 60s this top-rated
only featured Flatt and Scruggs singing and playing "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," the show's theme song and the first bluegrass song to reach #1 in the country charts, it occasionally presented the two in cameo appearances, year after year. Further, in the early 60s the folk revival, then in its glory, made
Flatt and Scruggs popular to a different audience, one that was educated and urban. In 1967 the movie Bonnie and Clyde was a huge hit, and with it came even more exposure for Flatt and Scruggs, whose "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was the chief background music, making that song the most well known of all bluegrass instumentals. Listeners who never had warmed up to straight country music grew hot for bluegrass, and festivals proliferated nationwide.
What made Flatt and Scruggs so famous, when numerous other excellent bluegrass
groups of high quality (Jim and Jesse, the Stanley Brothers, the
Osborne Brothers, Reno and Smiley, the Lilly Brothers) remained relatively unknown? One reason is that they always attracted the talent and their 1948 sound was way ahead of the others. More important, the Foggy Mountain Boys had Earl Scruggs, who reinvented the banjo with his three-finger picking (forever after known as "Scruggs picking") of mile-a-minute syncopated notes. The banjo was never the same after Earl Scruggs, whose presence at that time would have made any country band unique. They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.
~ David Vinopal
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