HOT DISH: Flatt & Scruggs Made Musical History

Magic of Their '60s Television Show Captured in DVD Reissues

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Flatt & Scruggs, 21 years as a team before parting ways in 1969, were the most significant duo in the history of bluegrass music and led the most consistent band in any musical genre. I used to hear teenaged boys say, “My favorite bands are the Beatles and Flatt & Scruggs.” Far out? Not as far out as one would imagine. After all, both bands worked so well together as a team.

When you watch and listen to the Best of Flatt & Scruggs TV Show, you are hearing the real deal. The third and fourth volumes of the DVD series were recently released by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Shanachie Entertainment.

Little did Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs know in 1945 when they joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys that they were making musical history that would last forever. And I doubt they realized in the early ’60s when they went on black-and-white television and performed the songs included on these wonderful packages that someone would watch and enjoy their performances almost 50 years later.

If you are hungry for live music played without ProTools — music that has not been altered or tinkered with — sit down and take a look and listen. Each package features two 30-minute TV shows opening with a fiddle tune and followed by a popular “heart” song and a commercial. After that, you get an up-tempo number followed by an instrumental, a gospel song, another commercial and instrumental, some comedy, another gospel song and one last “heart” song before the show finishes with a hot fiddle tune. Each show was pretty much the same, but we wouldn’t think of missing one at our house when they first aired on Saturday evenings.

There are two or three instrumentals on each show with Scruggs on banjo and guitar, “Uncle Josh” Graves on Dobro and Paul Warren on fiddle. You feature the best when it’s handy — and it certainly was the best with Flatt & Scruggs and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Scruggs, 83, and mandolinist-harmony singer Curly Seckler, 81, are the only ones left of the fabulous Foggy Mountain Boys. Lester Flatt, who played guitar and sang lead vocals, died in 1969, and fiddler Paul Warren died a few years before. Bassist “Cousin Jake” Tullock is gone and Graves passed away a couple of years back.

Earl still plays his banjo and is looking forward to performing Wednesday (Oct. 17) at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York City and Friday (Oct. 19) in Albany, N.Y. Curly told me at church that he is set to fly out to California for a concert real soon. Earl and Curly, those two North Carolina bluegrass pioneers, are still on the road playing music for the fans.

The Foggy Mountain Boys were more than bluegrass pioneers, they were bluegrass teachers. Even today, Earl Scruggs can be seen at a festival or a party, surrounded by banjo pickers watching the master and paying close attention. As the architect of the three-finger roll, he perfected the style that all banjo players try to emulate. Also, Earl is quite the guitar player, playing the style he learned from Mother Maybelle Carter on solos or gospel numbers. No one is better than Earl.

Flatt was homespun cool. He was at his believable best when it came to hosting a show, whether live or on radio or TV, and this comes through on the DVDs. It’s no wonder the Martha White company stayed with the band as its sponsor for all those years. Nobody could have sold their flour and cornmeal products better than Lester. Nobody could sing better than Lester, either, especially on the gospel songs. With Lester and Earl singing lead and baritone, Curly singing tenor and Paul singing bass, the Foggy Mountain Boys’ vocal quartet was as good as I ever heard. And sometimes Jake would gather around the microphone with the foursome to make it sound like a choir.

Remember Flatt’s G-run on the guitar? Country and bluegrass guitar players still try to do copy it, but very few can do it as perfectly as Lester.

Speaking of Paul Warren, he was the bass singer, but when he truly excelled was when he had the fiddle in his hands. Young fiddlers in Japan listen to Flatt & Scruggs’ records to learn to play the fiddle like Paul Warren. In fact, every good fiddle player today has spent a lot of time listening to the great Paul Warren. In concert, Paul could tear up an audience.

Then there’s the incredible Burkett “Uncle Josh” Graves. He played the Dobro with such passion, he is no doubt the reason the instrument is played in bluegrass and country music in 2007. The greatest Dobro player alive today, Jerry Douglas, calls him his mentor. So do all others who play the instrument.

I wouldn’t miss these DVDs for the world. If you can’t find them in your local stores, you can purchase them from Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Trisha Opens for Garth
Trisha Yearwood told CMT.com and CMT Radio that when she heard that her husband, Garth Brooks, had sold out nine shows in Kansas City, she knew she wanted to be a part of the excitement of singing before 150,000 fans. I hear that the show on Nov. 14 will be taped for showing in 300 theaters. Amazing Garth is all I can say. He’s gonna help make country music a bestseller in 2007, I do believe.

Jo Dee Runs … and Runs
One runner died and they closed the Chicago Marathon, but Jo Dee Messina finished the Oct. 7 run despite the high temperature and water shortage. She finished in five hours and 45 minutes.

“It was definitely one of my harder runs,” Jo Dee said. “The heat was intense. I kept telling myself, ‘This is no harder than my training runs this summer.’ Thanks to a spectator with water, I was able to stay hydrated, rationing one bottle of water for the last eight miles. Not my goal finishing time but, I’m still very proud of myself for finishing.”

Jo Dee, someone died! You finished and lived. Be proud.

Tidbits
Brad Paisley has extended his Bonfires & Amplifiers run through February, including a stop at the Sommet Center in Music Town on Feb. 15.

The Urbans are going country. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman told the New York Times they have bought a farm in Tennessee. Keith is in the recording studio finishing his greatest hits CD that’s due Nov. 20. Won’t it be funny if we get to see Nicole deciding which end of a hoe to use?

Diamond Rio just released their first holiday CD, A Diamond Rio Christmas: The Star Still Shines, on Word Records.

One of the hottest acts in any music genre, Carrie Underwood will celebrate the release of her much anticipated new album, Carnival Ride, with an Oct. 23 performance on Good Morning America.

Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney were scheduled to join the wonderful Emeril Lagasse and a bevy of rockers at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for Hagar’s 60th birthday on Saturday (Oct. 13). I am convinced all of those attending the party decided to remain cold sober. I’m joking. Just joking.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Refried Beans.