Nashville Bids Goodbye to everybody’s favorite Uncle

Casey HenryThis post is a contribution from Casey Henry. Casey is the daughter of banjo player and bluegrass entrepreneur, Murphy Henry, and an accomplished banjo player in her own right, as well as an experienced instructor. Currently Casey and her brother Chris are fronting a band called The Two-Stringers. She first posted this on The B, earlier this morning.

Yesterday at Madison Funeral Home a packed crowd gathered to say goodbye to Uncle Josh Graves, to honor his life, his music, and the tremendous impact he had on the lives of others. Many beautiful arrangements of flowers surrounded the casket, including white and yellow roses from Alison Krauss. Red roses adorned the coffin. I know a couple of Josh’s sons, so I said hello to them and conveyed my condolances. Brian mentioned he needs to come back to the dentist office where I work, and Josh Jr. said he still intends to get me to play some gigs with him, which he initially called me about at least a year ago–unfailingly good natured and polite even in their hour of grief.

Eddie Stubbs delivered the eulogy, giving a run-down of Josh’s life and career. His first job was with Esco Hankins. He married his wife Evelyn when he was 17 and she was 15. 61 years of marriage. We gave her a round of applause for that. There were so many stories about Josh. He wrote some songs for Flatt and Scruggs, some of which had the good fortune to be on the B side of hits. Josh commented “My side sold just as many as the A side.” Eddie asked him how he was doing after he lost his legs. Eddie “cleaned up” Josh’s answer: “I ain’t kickin’ no posteriors.”

Jerry Douglas, who is on tour on the west coast, flew in for the visitation on Monday. He had to fly back to play in San Diego Tuesday but left a letter which Eddie read. He talked about when he was learning, when all he thought about was how to make the sounds he heard coming out of the Dobro on records, that Josh was his “invisible friend,” always with him, always in his head throughout the day, in school or wherever. One of the most important events in his life occurred when he met Josh for the first time at the festival campsite of some friends. Josh gave him something more important than a handshake or a pick or a string clipping. He asked young Jerry to sit down and play a tune with him. He handed Jerry his Dobro and he played Jerry’s. He made time for this skinny kid who wanted to learn to play. And that has stayed with him every since.

Someone else who Josh called “Kid” is Marty Stuart. Marty told about how when the Flatt and Scruggs TV show came on in Phildelphia, Mississippi, when he was growing up, the air would lift. In a town torn apart by racial tension and violence it was like a respite, a bright spot that left a hole each week when it ended. Marty called that band “A divinely called band made up of divinely called men.” He played a moving, bluesy version of “Flatt Lonesome”, accompanied by Ricky Skaggs on guitar. When he played the first few notes he stopped and said to us “I’m out of tune” and proceeded to tune. He turned toward Josh, lying in his coffin at the front of the room and said, “I know I’m out of tune.”

Music played an important part of the service. Tim Graves started the program with “What a Friend” on the Dobro. Dean Osborne’s band sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” The Whites, with Ricky Skaggs, sang a song Josh wrote, “Come Walk With Me” and later sang “Farther Along.” Before the service they played the instrumentals Josh recorded with Flatt and Scruggs (so loud the little funeral home speakers were kind of distorting) and the postlude was Josh’s recording of “Flatt Lonesome”.

Josh was buried in Hendersonville but I couldn’t go to the graveside service because I had to come back and teach banjo in the afternoon. In attendance were Gary and Randy Scruggs, Carol Lee, Tim O’Brien, Rob Ickes, Randy Kohrs, Phil Ledbetter, Kim Gardner, everyone from the IBMA office, David Crow, Jill Douglas, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Ronnie McCoury, Carl Jackson, Curley Seckler, Mac Wiseman, Jesse McReynolds, Mike Bub, Roland White, Eddie and Martha Adcock, Kenny Baker, Raymond Huffmaster, Toshio Watanabe, Saab Inoue, Lance LeRoy, Laura Cash and others I’m sure I missed. It was a fitting service for someone who was a hero, personally and musically, to thousands of people throughout his life.