The bluegrass world has lost one of its last connections to the first generation of bluegrass artists with the passing today of Curly Seckler. He had turned 98 years old on Christmas day, and died peacefully just after noon in his sleep.
Born John Ray Sechler in North Carolina, he used Curly Seckler as his stage name from the time he and his brothers performed as The Yodeling Rangers in the mid-1930s. A big break came in 1939 when Bill and Charlie Monroe split up as The Monroe Brothers, and Charlie hired Curly to sing the high part that Bill had previously done. Once people heard Seckler’s high, clear voice he found himself in wide demand, doing stints with a number of top groups like The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Mac Wiseman, and The Sauceman Brothers.
For most fans, though, it was his time with Flatt & Scruggs that cemented Curly’s place in the bluegrass pantheon. From 1949 to 1962 he toured and recorded with Lester and Earl, contributing to some of the most iconic tracks in the history of our music. It’s hard to even imagine songs like Dim Lights, Thick Smoke or Some Old Day without his string tenor, or his trademark flip at the end of a line.
Seckler also wrote a number of bluegrass classics, like No Mother Or Dad, We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore, and That Old Book Of Mine.
In addition to singing tenor to Flatt, Curly would occasionally be featured singing lead with The Foggy Mountain Boys.
After Flatt & Scruggs disbanded in 1969, Curly went to work with Lester Flatt & The Nashville Grass in ’71. He stuck with Lester until Flatt died in 1979, and Seckler kept The Nashville Grass going more than a decade further along with Willis Spears who sang in a similar style.
As a solo artist Curly recorded a couple of albums for Copper Creek in 2005 and 2007, filled with his new original songs. By 2012, however, health issues made it difficult for him to continue performing, and he stayed pretty close to home.
He was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2004 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
Very few figures in the history of bluegrass have left as much behind as Curly Seckler, who will also be remembered for his jovial personality and winning smile. He wasn’t much for book learning, as folks used to say, but few ever lived with as thorough an understanding of how to sing this music.
R.I.P., Curly Seckler, a true bluegrass hero.