Curly Seckler celebrates his 95th birthday

Curly SecklerBluegrass music veteran Curly Seckler celebrated his 95th birthday on Christmas Day, 2014.

Seckler is one of bluegrass music’s great tenor singers, being noted particularly for his harmony work with Lester Flatt. He acquired his vocal talents from his father.

His mother taught him a couple of guitar chords and he later learned the fundamentals of playing tenor banjo and mandolin, his instrument of choice during much of his career.

He began his career in 1935, before bluegrass music had been originated. Seckler joined with his three brothers – Marvin; guitar, George; fiddle, and Duard, whose nickname was Lucky; guitar – to form a string band that they originally named the Yodeling Rangers. They played on radio station WSTP in Salisbury, North Carolina, not far from China Grove, where he grew up. They began their radio show in 1939.

During that year Charlie Monroe lured Seckler away to help him to form the Kentucky Partners, a band that included Tommy Scott and Tommy Edwards. They went to work at WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia, and then to WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1941 Seckler, then known as Smiling Bill, and Scott, known as Ramblin’ Scotty, decided to form a duet and move to Georgia and then South Carolina.  They worked radio and tent shows until a freak snowstorm destroyed their tent, prompting Seckler to return to North Carolina.

Eloise and Curly SecklerIn September 1946 he re-joined Charlie Monroe and cut his first commercial recordings for RCA Victor, doing four songs with Monroe, including the original recording of Mother’s Not Dead, She’s Only Sleeping and Who’s Calling You Sweetheart?

In 1947 Seckler worked with Mac Wiseman at WCYB in Bristol. He later worked briefly with Jim & Jesse, but in March 1949 he left to join Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys. His twelve-year association was full of stellar moments and history-making events, with recordings for Mercury Records and then Columbia Records.

During the early 1950s Seckler did work brief stints with the Sauceman Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and Jim and Jesse, helping the latter on their initial Capitol session in June 1952, at which time they recorded Seckler’s classic Korean War song Purple Heart.

In March 1962 Seckler left the Foggy Mountain Boys and spent a decade in the trucking business.

In 1971 he made an album, Curly Seckler Sings Again album for County Records, backed by the Shenandoah Cut-Ups, and made a few festival appearances in support of that record.

This led to him being reunited with Lester Flatt, now leading his own band, the Nashville Grass. This association lasted six years and incorporated recordings for RCA Victor, Flying Fish, Canaan and CMH Records.

Curly Seckler & The Nashville GrassIn the meantime Seckler cut another album, No Doubt About It (Revonah Records) and became the leader of the Nashville Grass, when Lester Flatt passed away during the following spring. Honoring Flatt’s wish that he keep the band together, Seckler continued for 15 years, although there were several personnel changes during that time. They cut albums for CMH, Folkways, Rich-R-Tone and Rebel Records.

Also he recorded an album for Folkways Records with his one-time partner Tommy Scott.

Seckler, later assisted by Willis Spears, a vocalist steeped in Lester Flatt’s style, kept the Nashville Grass working shows and festival through until the 1990s.

Seckler continued to perform until 2012, and even recorded with Larry Sparks in December of 2013, just a few days prior to his 94th birthday.

Here is a list of some career highlights ………

  • 1939: was one of the original members of Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Partners.
  • 1945: first played on the Grand Ole Opry, with Danny Bailey.
  • 1946: recorded with Charlie Monroe (first recordings by the Kentucky Partners).
  • 1949: joined Flatt & Scruggs, over the next dozen years he sang tenor and played mandolin on many of their biggest hits of the day and their most popular classics all of have stood the test of time.
  • 1952: recorded with Jim & Jesse McReynolds on their first Capitol records.
  • 1955-1962: appeared with Flatt & Scruggs on television across the southeast, and on the Grand Ole Opry.
  • 1971: recorded Curly Seckler Sings Again album for County Records.
  • 1973: joined Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass; then took over leadership of the band following Lester’s death, until 1994.
  • 1994: recorded 60 Years of Bluegrass, released on Vine Street Records, and later re-issued by Copper Creek Records in 2005.
  • 1996: received a Distinguished Achievement Award from IBMA.
  • 2004: inducted into IBMA Hall of Fame.
  • 2004: recorded two new albums for Copper Creek, and began performing again at several events and during each ensuing year.
  • 2008: performed on the PBS show, Song of the Mountains, accompanied by the Steep Canyon Rangers.
  • 2010: inducted into North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
  • 2010: celebrated 75th anniversary in music.
  • 2011: performed on The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV.
  • 2011: inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

Seckler has now been forced to give up performing due to health issues, but continues to enjoy listening to music.

The Earls of Leicester visit Curly SecklerOn November 24, the Earls of Leicester performed for him and other residents at the assisted living facility where he and his wife, Eloise, live. Seckler was reportedly delighted with their performance and is pleased that they are carrying on the Foggy Mountain legacy.

Congratulations Curly!! Happy Birthday and Happy Christmas – here’s hoping that you enjoy many more anniversaries.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.