CMT All-Time Top 40: Flatt & Scruggs

Country Artists Count Down Their Favorite Artists of All Time

Bluegrass standard-bearers Flatt & Scruggs land at No. 34 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice , a list of the greatest artists in history chosen by country stars themselves.

One by one, the countdown is revealed each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .

Guitarist and singer Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs first met as members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1945, the genre’s founding group. In time, the duo would leave Monroe’s band and start their own, the Foggy Mountain Boys, becoming one of the most popular and influential bluegrass bands in history.

Arguably, the Foggy Mountain Boys brought bluegrass music into the mainstream of American culture. Scruggs’ signature three-finger banjo style and Flatt’s distinctive vocals made massive hits out of songs like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies TV show. Their style is still emulated to this day.

Pam Tillis, Dierks Bentley, Rhonda Vincent and Dwight Yoakam are some of the country stars who chose Flatt & Scruggs for inclusion on CMT All Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice.

“My dad’s peers were Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Ray Price, Dolly [Parton] and Patsy [Cline],” said Tillis. “So most of that was a certain type of country. The only exposure I had to bluegrass was Saturday afternoon television with Flatts & Scruggs. … And I loved it.

“I knew that it was cool even then. The coolest [people] are the ones that don’t try to be cool. They wore those funny little hats that weren’t quite cowboy. I don’t know where they got those hats, I guess it was that mountain thing, and they wore those string ties and they sang about Martha White flour. You just believed anything that came out of their mouths, and the playing was so tight. They didn’t try to be cool. They just were cool.”

“Earl Scruggs really invented a style of banjo playing,” said Bentley, who released his bluegrass-influenced Up on the Ridge album in 2010. “You know, that three-finger roll that people just assume ’that’s how the banjo started’? That’s something he developed and came up with and popularized, and you still hear it today on all kinds of country records. People out there playing the banjo or listening to those records might not even know that, but it really was started by one particular guy, and that influence can’t be understated at all.”

A bluegrass star in her own right, Vincent said Flatt & Scruggs were almost like a part of her family.

“They had the Martha White Show on [Nashville radio station] WSM every morning. That’s how I grew up, listening to Flatt & Scruggs. I was in Greentop, Mo., and my dad would turn on the radio every morning at 5:45, and we listened to the Martha White Show with them. … They were a daily part of our lives.”

For Yoakam, spending some time with Scruggs was one of the most meaningful moments of his career.

“My grandfather — Luther Tibbs, this old coalminer — he had Flatt & Scruggs albums,” Yoakam recalled. “He was just enamored with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. And I was performing a couple of their songs when my career started out. I expressed my admiration for Earl over the years. We had become acquainted and, when they invited me to be on [2001’s Earl Scruggs and Friends album], I leapt at the chance. I ended up writing a song in that moment with this icon.

“I’m really fortunate to have been part of a generation that was still able to access and meet those heroes that really forged the pathway that led to what country music could be and has become.”

Tune in to CMT Hot 20 Countdown each week at 11 a.m. ET/PT to check out the next star revealed on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice.