Dobro Legend “Uncle Josh” Graves Dies

Dobro legend Burkett “Uncle Josh” Graves, whose distinctive playing style played a major role in Flatt & Scruggs’ sound during the ’50s and ’60s, died Saturday (Sept. 30) in Nashville at age 81 following a lengthy illness. Reference sources provide contradictory information regarding Graves’ year of birth. According to his official Web site, he was born Sept. 27, 1925, in Tellico Plains, Tenn. He launched his professional career in 1942 in East Tennessee as a bassist for Pierce Brothers before touring and recording with singer Esco Hankins. He later worked worked with Molly O’Day and Mac Wiseman before joining Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper’s band. After Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs saw Graves performing with the Coopers on the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, they invited him to join their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Although he was hired as a bassist, Graves soon started playing Dobro in the group. Influenced by Cliff Carlisle and bluesman Blind Boy Fuller, Graves incorporated a rolling, three-fingered Dobro technique similar to Scruggs’ banjo style. Graves’ sense of humor provided comic relief during Flatt & Scruggs’ live shows, and he remained in the Foggy Mountain Boys until Flatt & Scruggs split up in 1969. He then joined Flatt’s Nashville Grass, a band that featured teenaged mandolinst Marty Stuart. In 1971, he began a three-year tenure in the rock-oriented Earl Scruggs Revue. Graves recorded more than a dozen albums as a solo artist and collaborated extensively with fiddler Kenny Baker. Graves and Baker were also members of the Masters, a quartet that included mandolinist Jesse McReynolds and guitarist Eddie Adcock. Graves’ credits as a session musician include recordings with Kris Kristofferson, J.J.Cale and Steve Young. Plagued by a variety of health problems in his later years, the bluegrass community assisted him by staging several benefit concerts, including a 2001 show featuring Scruggs, Alison Krauss and one of Graves’ many Dobro disiciples, Jerry Douglas. Graves was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor in 1997.