Guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo whiz Earl Scruggs first met in 1945 while working in Bill Monroe's band, the Blue Grass Boys. Scruggs showed up one night and blew everybody's mind with his newfangled, three-fingered banjo picking style, which was about twelve times faster than anything anybody had ever heard before: thus was born the bluegrass tradition of musical drag racing. Flatt & Scruggs were both star performers, helping define the aggressively flashy, instrumentally expansive sound of early classic bluegrass. Tasting the limelight, they teamed up in 1948, leaving Monroe's band to form their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Flatt & Scruggs became one of the pillars of the golden era of bluegrass, and were one of the few acts to weather the storm when rock'n'roll swept the pop music landscape. Indeed, they enjoyed huge popularity in the early 1960s, particularly when the folk revival gave them a new audience, and surprising chart success after they provided the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies TV show. They disbanded in 1969, with Flatt sticking to a traditional sound while Scruggs became a pioneer of progressive bluegrass and country-folk experimentalism Here's a quick look at their work...
Flatt & Scruggs "Foggy Mountain Jamboree" (Columbia, 1957)
Flatt & Scruggs "Country Music" (Mercury, 1958) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs" (Mercury, 1959) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Songs Of Glory" (Columbia, 1960) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "...With The Foggy Mountain Boys" (Columbia-Harmony, 1960) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "...With The Foggy Mountain Boys" (Mercury, 1960) (LP)
Same title, same idea, but not the same album: in 1960, the duo switched labels and both the old label (Mercury) and the new one (Columbia) issued collections of their old work, with the same generic title. Great music, though!
Flatt & Scruggs "Foggy Mountain Banjo" (Columbia, 1961)
A sweet, all-instrumental album with guitarist Lester Flatt largely taking the back seat while Earl Scruggs swaps licks with dobro master Josh Graves and fiddler Earl Warren. This isn't a fast-paced bluegrass drag-racing style album, but rather a laid-back, melody oriented showcase for their musical viruosity. The banjo work is stellar, of course, though Graves gets in some particularly nice licks on the dobro. On the mellow side, but highly recommended.
Flatt & Scruggs "Songs Of The Famous Carter Family" (Columbia, 1961)
When they made this tasty tribute to the Carter Family, Flatt & Scruggs were still major stars of the then-slowed down bluegrass scene, but also poised just on the edge of mainstream fame. Slowing their sound down a little and meeting the doleful Carter Family sound halfway, the bluegrass kings capture the whistful, nostalgic tone of these old songs just perfectly, giving these old songs a slight modernized touch-up. It's also a nice chance to hear Earl Scruggs give his banjo a break, and work a little magic on the guitar instead. Mother Maybelle also chimes in with a little bit of autoharp (though, sadly, no vocals...) A nice down-home album made just as F&S were moving into their most commercial years, and a fitting tribute to the Carter Family legacy. Worth checking out!
Flatt & Scruggs "Folk Songs Of Our Land" (Columbia, 1962)
Flatt & Scruggs "Hard Travelin' " (Columbia, 1963) (MP3)
This includes their big hit, "Ballad Of Jed Clampett," also known as the theme song for the Beverley Hillbillies TV show, a tune that would pay the bills and helped the duo weather the changing pop music landscape in a way that few classic bluegrass bands were able... Catchy tune, though not one I really need to hear again anytime soon... Y'all come back now, y'hear?
Flatt & Scruggs "At Carnegie Hall!" (Columbia, 1963)
Flatt & Scruggs "Recorded Live At Vanderbilt University" (Columbia, 1964)
Flatt & Scruggs "The Fabulous Sound Of Flatt & Scruggs" (Columbia, 1964)
Flatt & Scruggs "Kings Of Bluegrass: Great Original Recordings" (Columbia-Harmony, 1965) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Pickin', Strummin' And Singin': The Versatile Flatt & Scruggs" (Columbia, 1965) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs/Various Artists "The Beverly Hillbillies" (Columbia, 1965) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs pick a few tunes on this cast album for the popular TV show... If'n you wanna hear Granny belt out a tune or two as well, then buddy, this here's your big chance. Take your shoes off... set a spell...
Flatt & Scruggs "Town And Country" (Columbia, 1966)
Flatt & Scruggs "When The Saints Go Marching In" (Columbia, 1966) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Sacred Songs: Great Original Recordings" (Columbia-Harmony, 1967) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs & Doc Watson "Strictly Instrumental" (Columbia, 1967)
A major meeting of talent here, even if F&S's glory days were well behind them and they were kind of phoning 'em in by the time these sessions were made. There's plenty of great picking on here, and a uniformly high level of musicianship, but there are some of the tropes of the Columbia studios that get in the ways (what was up with those harmonica tootles from Charlie McCoy, for example?) Still, this disc is worth checking out if you're a picker, or into hearing some high-class picking, even if the music itself flags at times... Also features Josh Graves doling out a few perfunctory dobro riffs as well.
Flatt & Scruggs "Hear The Whistles Blow" (Columbia, 1967) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Changin' Times" (Columbia, 1968)
Flatt & Scruggs "Songs To Cherish" (Columbia-Harmony, 1968) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "The Story Of Bonnie And Clyde" (Columbia, 1968) (LP)
Flatt & Scruggs "Nashville Airplane" (Columbia, 1968)
Flatt & Scruggs "Final Fling" (Columbia, 1969)
Flatt & Scruggs "Breaking Out" (Columbia, 1970)
Hick Music Index