Flatt & Scruggs Biography

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Lester Flatt (28 June 1914, Overton County, Tennessee, USA, d. 11 May 1979, Nashville, Tennessee, USA; guitar) and Earl Scruggs (b. 6 January 1924, Cleveland County, North Carolina, USA; banjo). These influential musicians began working together in December 1945 as members of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. In February 1948 they left to form the Foggy Mountain Boys with Jim Shumate (fiddle), Howard Watts aka Cedric Rainwater (bass fiddle) - both ex-Bill Monroe - and, latterly, Mac Wiseman (tenor vocals/guitar). They became an established feature of Virginia’s WCYB radio station and undertook recording sessions for the Mercury Records label before embarking on a prolonged tour of the south. Here they forged a more powerful, ebullient sound than was associated with their chosen genre and in November 1950 Flatt and Scruggs joined Columbia / CBS Records, with whom they remained throughout their career together. Three years later they signed a sponsorship agreement with Martha White Mills that engendered a regular show on Nashville’s WSM and favoured slots on their patron’s television shows. Josh Graves (dobro) was then added to the line-up, which in turn evolved a less frenetic sound and reduced the emphasis on Scruggs’ banjo playing. Appearances on the nationally syndicated Folk Sound USA brought the group’s modern bluegrass sound to a much wider audience, while their stature was further enhanced by an appearance at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival. Flatt and Scruggs were then adopted by the college circuit where they were seen as antecedents to a new generation of acts, including the Kentucky Colonels, the Hillmen and the Dillards. The Foggy Mountain Boys performed the theme song, ‘The Ballad Of Jed Clampett’, to the popular Beverly Hillbillies television show in the early 60s while their enduring instrumental, ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’, was heavily featured in the movie Bonnie And Clyde. Bluegrass students suggested that this version lacked the sparkle of earlier arrangements and declared that the group lacked its erstwhile vitality. By 1968 Earl Scruggs’ sons, Randy and Gary, had been brought into the line-up, but the banjoist nonetheless grew dissatisfied with the constraints of a purely bluegrass setting. The partnership was dissolved the following year. While Flatt formed a new act, the Nashville Grass, his former partner added further members of his family to found the Earl Scruggs Revue. Plans for a reunion album were thwarted by Flatt’s death in May 1979. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1985.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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