We have been well served with bluegrass music books during the past year with the superb study of the Stanley Brothers’ career and recorded music, The Music Of The Stanley Brothers, the substantial Bluegrass Hall of Fame Inductee Biographies, the uneven Bluegrass in Baltimore – The Hard Drivin’ Sound and Its Legacy and Carolina Bluegrass:: A High Lonesome History (more about this book another time).
Coming next summer (2016) is Penny Parsons’ Foggy Mountain Troubadour. It details the life of one of the true pioneers of the first generation of bluegrass artists, Curly Seckler, who provided mandolin and tenor vocals during a classic period of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys from 1949 to 1962.
Last month, despite her being knee-deep in copy editing work, we had an opportunity to sit down with Ms Parsons to discuss the background to her study of the life and music of Seckler, for whom she serves as manager.
What are you feeling now, as the UIP have posted some information about your book on their website?
“It is exciting to see the information about my book, Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life and Music of Curly Seckler, listed on the University of Illinois Press website. I am very pleased with the cover design for the book. The UIP graphics artist took a black and white photo of Curly from circa 1956 and added color, which really brought it to life. The interior of the book will have 49 other photos from Curly’s life and career. I am honored to have a foreword written by Eddie Stubbs. Eddie has been a great friend and supporter of Curly for many years. I am also grateful to Marty Stuart for his support and assistance with the project.”
What, if anything, remains to be done prior to publication?
“I have just finished doing copy edits. After that comes indexing. Once that is done, the book will go into production and I will work with UIP’s marketing department to prepare for its release in June 2016.”
What prompted you to write about Curly?
“I first conceived the idea of writing a biography of Curly in 2003, after I interviewed him for an article in Bluegrass Unlimited. I began doing interviews and research later that year. So the book has been about twelve years in the making.
It is hard to explain what it is about Curly that resonated with me, but he and Lester Flatt have always been my favorite bluegrass singers. When I was a child (growing up in Greensboro, NC) I happened upon the Flatt & Scruggs television show, which was broadcast on Saturdays on WSLS-TV in Roanoke, Virginia. I probably only saw it a few times, but it was the first bluegrass I ever heard and the memory remained indelibly etched in my brain. In 1972 I first saw Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass perform live. My life changed that night. I became obsessed with bluegrass and with learning about it. As I began collecting Flatt & Scruggs records, I discovered Curly Seckler’s singing. Just months after I first saw the Nashville Grass, Curly joined the group, and I was able to put a face to the distinctive voice that I had grown to love. For the next several years, I attended as many of Flatt’s shows as I could. After his passing I continued to follow Curly Seckler and the Nashville Grass for as long as he continued to perform. I admired the way he kept that classic sound alive, although the music was changing around him. As Curly aged, he lost none of his power as a singer. I also appreciated his warm, sincere style of emceeing – like Lester, he had that old-school charm and wit that made audiences feel welcome.
To have the opportunity to interview Curly in 2003 and to hear his recollections and stories about the ‘golden age’ of bluegrass was a dream come true. But that turned out to be just the beginning. Over the next twelve years I was privileged to work with Curly in ways I never could have imagined, and blessed to become his friend. I found him to be sharp, witty, thoughtful, courteous, sensitive, loyal, and generous. Anyone who knows Curly knows that he is a great storyteller. In writing the book I have tried to let Curly tell much of the story, while I added the historical perspective. I’ve also included insights from many of Curly’s friends and associates, including Jesse McReynolds, Marty Stuart, Josh Graves, Mac Wiseman, Lance LeRoy, Eddie Stubbs, J. D. Crowe, Jody Rainwater, and Ramblin’ Tommy Scott. I hope that this will make for an enjoyable as well as informative read.”
Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life and Music of Curly Seckler should be published in June 2016. It is available for pre-order direct from University of Illinois Press, and details are as follows:
978-0-252-04010-8, cloth format, $95.00
978-0-252-08159-0, paperback, $22.95
272 pages, 49 black & white photographs
It will be available from Curly’s website www.curlyseckler.net also.