I finally had a chance recently to watch the new Flatt & Scruggs DVDs released by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Shanachie Entertainment. Like the two previous DVDs in this series, these two new DVDs (Volumes 3 and 4), feature video recordings of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys from their live Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry TV shows aired in the early 1960s. Each DVD contains two roughly 30 minute programs, complete with Martha White advertisements.
These two new releases are a crucial addition to any bluegrass lover’s – or student’s – library. They are truly timeless, and capture brilliantly the easy charm that made Flatt & Scruggs into popular television personalities – not to mention the power and precision of the musical performances.
They showcase one of the most influential editions of The Foggy Mountain Boys: Curly Seckler on mandolin and tenor vocals, Josh Graves on resonator guitar, Paul Warren on fiddle and Jake Tullock on bass – and comic relief. As a special treat, Vol. 3 also includes several cuts that feature an 8 year old Randy Scruggs, and Vol. 4 has 7 year old Ricky Skaggs on two songs.
On one hand, the viewer is struck by how much has changed in bluegrass music over the ensuing 45 years since these shows were recorded. Yet at the same time, much of the formula that made Lester and Earl into stars is still central to what keeps modern bluegrass fresh, and continuing to appeal to audiences of all ages.
They mix banjo and fiddle instrumentals, Gospel and spiritual numbers, familiar and newly-composed bluegrass songs and sounds from the current pop music of the day (hillbilly country, folk and early rock and roll).
It’s also fun to watch the band deal with the then still emerging medium of live television. Lester comes across like a seasoned pro, and Earl’s quiet persona serves as the perfect counterpart. The other members of the band each add their own personality as well, with Seckler’s stone-faced seriousness balanced by Tullock’s clowning, and Graves and Warren smiling broadly at the folks out in TV land while they lay down their seminal instrumental solos.
Four more volumes in this critically valuable series will be released in 2008.
Oddly enough, the new DVDs are not yet available for sale on the Shanachie site, but can be found on the Country Music Hall of Fame site, and from most popular online sellers of bluegrass music and videos.