Marking 100th anniversary of Curly Seckler’s birth

Years ending in “9” figure quite prominently in the life of Curly Seckler. 

John Ray Seckler (or Sechler) was born a few miles north-east of China Grove, Rowan County, North Carolina, in December 1919; in 1949 he joined Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys; and in 1979, following Lester Flatt’s death, Seckler became the leader of the Nashville Grass. You get the idea…..  

1919 – born (December 25).

1929 – Seckler’s father passed away (June 15) leaving his mother with eleven children to care for 11 children (six boys, five girls) and a 150-acre farm to manage. 

1939 – WSTP in Salisbury, North Carolina, started transmissions on January 2; Curly Seckler and his brothers began performing at the radio station in April. 

1939 – Seckler joined Charlie Monroe’s first Kentucky Partners band at WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, (early July); they moved to WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, in early November. He was paid $20 a week.

1949 – Seckler joined Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in Bristol, Virginia (late March) and within a week they moved to work on Radio WROL in Knoxville, Tennessee; in September they began appearing as stars of the Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance in Lexington, Kentucky. 

1949 – Seckler first recorded with the Foggy Mountain Boys (April or May); Curly first recorded one of his original songs (No Mother or Dad) with the Foggy Mountain Boys (December 11). 

1959 – Seckler re-joined Flatt & Scruggs after a year-long absence (May). 

1969 – Seckler was working as a truck driver but, was also emceeing and performing at bluegrass festivals as a guest with various groups including Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass, Jimmy Martin, the Shenandoah Cut-Ups, and fiddler Joe Greene. 

1979 – Lester Flatt passed away on May 11. Before he died, he asked Seckler to take over the Nashville Grass and carry on his legacy, which he did for another 15 years. In 1981 Willis Spears, whose singing and guitar playing were remarkably similar to Lester Flatt’s, joined the band. (In 1987, Seckler made Willis his partner.) 

1989 – Curly Seckler and Willis Spears recorded Tribute to Lester Flatt for Rebel Records (released on cassette only, CS-4301). Five cuts from this set are included in the CD, That Old Book of Mine (County CO 2740). 

2009 – Seckler was a recipient of the Leon Kiser Memorial Award, and performed at the Paramount Theater in Bristol, TN (February 28).

2009 – Seckler was featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina People program (May). During the same week, he taped an episode of the PBS program, Song of the Mountains. It was his second appearance on the show. In June, he and Willis Spears performed at the Song of the Mountains Festival in Groseclose, Virginia.

2009 – Seckler performed at the Bluegrass Gospel Association’s annual awards show at the Texas Troubadour Theater in Nashville (November 6), and then returned to the theater a week later to join Jesse McReynolds on the Ernest Tubb Records Midnite Jamboree (November 14). 

2009 – He celebrated his 90th birthday at a party hosted by Gerald McCormick and attended by many of his musician friends including Marty Stuart, John Conlee, James Monroe, Roland White, Ronnie Reno, and Eddie Stubbs.

And for some more interesting facts …. 

In the year in which he was 9 years old – 

His youngest brother Hugh was born (September 13, 1928). ‘Curly’ was going to school, working on the farm, and generally doing what young boys do. 

It is possible that he first started singing at this time, as Seckler participated in plays at the end of the school year. 

In the year in which he was 19 – 

In 1938 Curly Seckler (tenor banjo), brothers Marvin (known as “Slim,” guitar), George (working with his given name, fiddle) and Duard (Lucky, guitar), along with friend Murray Belk (“Shy Mike,” jug and washboard), heavily influenced by the singing cowboys of the day, formed the Yodeling Rangers (later changed to the Trail Riders).

In the year in which he was 29 – 

In March 1948 Seckler declined an opportunity to replace Lester Flatt as lead singer with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. 

In the year in which he was 39 –

Curly Seckler left Flatt & Scruggs a few weeks after participating in a recording session with Foggy Mountain Boys on April 26, 1958, the session produced four Gospel songs. 

In the year in which he was 49 – 

In 1968 he was driving a truck, hauling trailers, and performing at some festivals. Seckler’s income as a truck-driver was almost four times as much as that earned working seven days a week with Flatt & Scruggs. 

In the year in which he was 59 – 

On November 27, 1978, Curly Seckler & the Nashville Grass recorded 13 songs and one instrumental at the Oak Valley Studio, in Nashville, for the LP No Doubt About It (Revonah RS 933), released the following year. 

In the year in which he was 69 – 

On June 12, 1988, Earl Scruggs performed with Seckler and the Nashville Grass at the Frontier Ranch festival in Ohio.  Also, in 1988, Curly recorded several songs with David Grisman for Grisman’s Home is Where the Heart Is double length album on Rounder. 

In the year in which he was 79 – 

On December 26, 1998, Seckler married Eloise Warren, the widow of fiddler Paul Warren. They were married for 19 years, until his death in 2017.

In the year in which he was 89 – 

In June 2008 Seckler, along with 60 others, attended the Pioneers of Bluegrass event at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky. The pioneers were honored with a meal and a concert. During the gathering many, including Seckler, took part in a story-telling session for the Oral Histories documentaries.

Curly Seckler passed away on December 27, 2017, aged 98, having suffered strokes in 2013 and 2014, and experiencing several falls, the last of which led to a fractured arm and hip.  

He is considered to be among the very best tenor vocalists in bluegrass music. His trademark rhythmic mandolin “chop” was an important element of the Flatt & Scruggs’ sound. 

He worked with Danny Bailey and the Happy Valley Boys; the Sauceman Brothers; Jim and Jesse McReynolds; Mac Wiseman and the Country Boys; the Stanley Brothers; the McCormick Brothers; among others. 

Seckler recorded with Ramblin’ Tommy Scott numerous times throughout his career.

Seckler was honored by inducting him into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2004; into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010; and the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Season’s greetings, readers. 

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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.