Harold Smith on Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Bonnie and Clyde

Editor’s note…This article is a contribution from Harold Smith, longtime mandolinist for East Virginia, a very popular bluegrass group from the Tidewater area of Virginia in the late 1970s and early ’80s. They recorded a number of solid albums for Rounder Records and toured extensively for several years, known primarily for their strong vocal arrangements and strict traditionalist credentials. East Virginia were the stars of bluegrass where I grew up, and all us young grassers studied them intently while learning the craft. For us they were the hometown boys who mad it big. Thanks to Harold – Butch to his friends – for sharing another piece of bluegrass history. 

I found the June 24 Bluegrass Today post concerning comments by Bill Monroe relative to the Bonnie and Clyde movie interesting, and at the same time it reminded me of a phone conversation I shared with Bluegrass Hall Of Fame member Pete Kuykendall back many years ago.

I was doing some research on a segment of bluegrass history, and needed to contact Pete on several key segments of the subject at hand. I called Pete at his office at Bluegrass Unlimited, and we spoke at great length. It was during this phone conversation that Pete told me of a story that is relevant to the movie Bonnie and Clyde, and could possibly lead back to its origins as far as a soundtrack to the movie was concerned. I will attempt to relay the story as close to its origins as possible.

Pete told me that back when he was in high school in Arlington, VA, the school, or class he was in, held what he referred to as a “career day.” Pete said when he was in high school he had decided all he wanted to do was to become a bluegrass disc jockey. He was by that time, engrossed in the genre and had decided to make it his career choice.

When it was Pete’s time to present his career choice and various examples of the music he chose, he spoke of the vocation, the genre and played several selections of his favorite, at the time, bluegrass music. One of those selections was the Flatt and Scruggs’ original Foggy Mountain Breakdown recorded in the late 1940s. After Pete’s presentation was completed, and the class was dismissed, a classmate of Pete’s approached him, and was both intrigued and inquisitive about the Flatt and Scruggs’ instrumental. Pete told me at this time, he went into detail concerning his selection, and a bit of history on the genre itself.

Pete then told me the classmate was Warren Beatty. Beatty attended the same high school as Pete Kuykendall and was a popular high school athlete.

Pete told me then that he had hoped it made enough impression on Beatty to (possibly) influence the decision when it came to the soundtrack on the Bonnie And Clyde movie. Pete Kuykendall was one of most influential people all time in bluegrass music. The IBMA Hall Of Fame member was a successful musician, music publisher, magazine editor, and historian of the genre, just to mention a few of his accomplishments.

I was honored to be his friend. Pete Kuykendall is surely missed, and we will not see the likes of his kind ever again in bluegrass music.

Harold “Butch” Smith