Moments in Bluegrass BG75 #4 – Jerry Stuart meets Flatt & Scruggs

Following an invitation that the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) extended to its members that they share a memory from “75 years of bluegrass,” we thought that we would collect a few to share with you. 

Jerry Stuart was a teen and a Monroe style mandolin player in 1955 when he met Flatt and Scruggs. Jerry had a string band with a weekly radio show then. A few years later, he recorded Rocky Run on Mike Seeger’s Mountain Music Bluegrass Style album. With Jerry on that cut, was also Pete Kuykendall, Smiley Hobbs, Tom Gray, and Mike Seeger. Jerry chose engineering over music as a career. He is also a writer with material recorded by several noted bluegrass artists.

In 1954 in Siler City, NC, Jerry stopped his bicycle at an intersection. A stretched limo with Grand Ole Opry painted on it stopped across from him. Jake Tullock jumped out and approached the bicycle to ask for directions to Siler City High School. Jerry told him to just follow his bike. He turned the bike around and led them three blocks to the lunchroom behind the school. He knew that Flatt and Scruggs were going to play there that night. He led them into the lunchroom and to the stage nearby. 

From a front row seat, I watched the show that night. The band was made up of Curley Seckler on mandolin, Paul Warren on fiddle, Josh Graves on Dobro, Jake Tullock on bass, Lester Flatt on guitar and Earl Scruggs on banjo. They were wonderful. Lester sang Sleep With One Eye Open after saying the record company thought it was too sexy. He also sang You’re Not A Drop In The Bucket with Jake whopping the top of the bass on the word ‘Drop’. 

They brought their own sound system. It looked like a guitar amplifier. Two mikes plugged directly into the two inputs on the amp. No separate mixers or equalizers were present. The amplifier with its internal speaker sat at the front of the stage to the right of the musicians. That was the entire system. There were no monitors. The amplifier cabinet and speaker were about two feet-wide and two feet tall.

The first mic was center stage and was used for vocals, mandolin and fiddle. The second mike was to their right near where Earl stood. The banjo and Dobro shared that mic. On a split break, Earl was a bit late moving aside and the Dobro headstock caught him in the rear as Josh was threading his way in for the last half of the break. The whole band was grinning, including Earl who was saying, “My fault,” to Josh. 

They played for about an hour and took a short break. Jake and Josh were through the crowd selling pictures and songbooks. I wish I had bought a songbook, but I wanted to look at the fancy mandolin that Curly was playing. 

There was not another emcee for the night. Lester did all the talking. When he introduced Curly, he said, “This man holds a mandolin as well as any man I have ever seen.”

I went straight back to the lunchroom and asked Curly if he would allow me to play his mandolin. He was very gracious. I messed around with it and then launched into Rawhide. Curly leaned to me and said, “Don’t play so fast and fancy because I can’t do that.” As I quit playing, I saw Earl Scruggs behind Curly. He was laughing because Curly was squirming a little. I felt bad because Curly was so kind to me and I had no intention of putting anyone on the spot. 

What I sensed were band members who were having fun at a friend’s expense. 

I returned to my seat for the second half of the show.

OK, readers, does this story trigger any thoughts of bluegrass music in days gone by? What related event would you like remembered? Please share in comments. Thanks.

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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.