Real Bluegrass, Real Memories

Foggy Mountain Jamboree; Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Gospel; Earl Scruggs: I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends (Legacy/Columbia)
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs

By Bob Mitchell

I am one of the lucky ones. I was there in the 1950s; I met and heard Flatt and Scruggs on several occasions. It was special then and, in some ways, it is more special today. Fifty years later I am able to write about a style of music that is now recognized and appreciated all over the world. Although longtime bluegrass fans will be familiar with most tracks, there are some surprises. And it is a joy to hear these songs again, especially on high quality digital compact discs rather than scratchy old LPs and 45s.

The musicians on these three projects defined a genre in American musical literature. Listening to their work is similar to viewing an original Renoir. It's awe-inspiring art, often copied, but never really duplicated. A partial list of The Foggy Mountain Boys reads like a who's who: Benny Martin, fiddle; Josh "Buck" Graves, Doro; Curly Seckler, mandolin and tenor vocals; Paul Warren, fiddle; Everett Lilly, mandolin; Howdy Forrester and Chubby Wise, fiddle and Jody Rainwater, bass. Even country music super picker Chet Atkins provides rhythm guitar on a few selections. Traditional bluegrass just doesn't get any better than Flatt and Scruggs. Columbia/Legacy did it right in this superb three-pack release designed not only to salute the legendary Earl Scruggs, but also to present an incredible amount of Bluegrass Gold.

Flatt and Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Jamboree contains 15 tracks (including three bonus tracks not included on the original 1957 release) while Flatt and Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Gospel is a never-before-released compilation of 52 tracks (on two CDs). All recordings were made between 1951 and 1966 when bluegrass was as pure as a mountain stream. The songs brought back many pleasant memories and caused my eyes to get misty more than once. These two historic albums provide a journey back to the roots and allow you to experience what traditional bluegrass is all about. Flatt's robust guitar and tenor vocals helped gave bluegrass its distinctive sound while Scruggs rolling three-finger style banjo gave the music a breath of life that is sustained in 2005.

The third project, Earl Scruggs: I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends, was recorded after Flatt and Scruggs decided to go down separate musical roads. This 1971 re-issue contains 14 "contemporary" tracks and features guests like Vassar Clements, Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie, Norman Blake and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Scruggs is the widely recognized 81-year-old king of the five-string banjo and he gets the royal treatment from Columbia/Legacy with the release of three re-issued albums that highlight his contributions to American music. There are too many songs to mention but a new or old fan will find plenty to enjoy on any or all of these recordings. This is a spectacular tribute compilation. A tip of the reviewer's hat goes to Columbia/Legacy.