Flatt and Scruggs

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Flatt and Scruggs

Flatt and Scruggs, American bluegrass duo. Lester Raymond Flatt, voc., gtr. (b. Overton County, Tenn., June 28, 1914; d. Nashville, May 11, 1979) and Earl Eugene Scruggs, bjo. (b. Cleveland County, N.C., Jan. 6, 1924), along with their group, the Foggy Mountain Boys, were, after Bill Monroe, the primary performers of bluegrass music from the 1940s to the 1960s. Scruggs was a virtuoso banjo player who revolutionized the approach to the instrument, notably on such self-written hits as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” The duo popularized bluegrass music and made inroads into folk and pop during the 1960s with such hits as “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”

Flatt and Scruggs first played together as members of Bill Monroe’s backup group, the Bluegrass Boys, from December 1945, when Scruggs joined the band, to January 1948, when both musicians resigned. Forming the Foggy Mountain Boys, they began a series of jobs at local radio stations around the South. They signed to Mercury Records and made their first recordings for the label in October 1948. At their third recording session on Dec. 11, 1949, they recorded Scrugg’s fast-paced instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” In 1950 they switched to Columbia Records, with which they remained for the rest of their career.

Flatt and Scruggs reached the Top Ten of the country charts in February 1952 with “Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” (music and lyrics by Foggy Mountain Boys guitarist and singer Mac Wiseman). In June 1953 they began to perform on WSM, the Nashville radio station that sponsors the Grand Ole Opry. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955.

Flatt and Scruggs scored their second Top Ten country hit with “Cabin in the Hills” (music and lyrics by Cal DeVoll) in 1959. Their career was buoyed by the folk music revival of the late 1950s. Scruggs appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, and the group performed at the second in 1960. They made their network television debut in July 1960 on the special Folk Sound, U.S.A. They hit the Top Ten of the country charts for the third time in 1961 with “Go Home” (music and lyrics by Onie Wheeler). In September 1962 the situation comedy The Beverly Hillbillies began a nine-year run on television, using as its themesong the duo’s recording of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (music and lyrics by Paul Henning). Their single of the song entered the pop and country charts in December 1962, becoming a #1 country hit in January 1963. It was nominated for the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording.

The success of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” expanded Flatt and Scruggs’s popularity. On Dec. 8, 1962, they performed at Carnegie Hall in N.Y., recording the show for an album that made the Top Ten of the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts; it also was nominated for a 1963 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. In the spring of 1963 they returned to the Top Ten of the country singles charts with “Pearl Pearl Pearl” (music and lyrics by Paul Henning), another song featured on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Flatt and Scruggs placed two more albums, Recorded Live at Vanderbilt University and The Fabulous Sound of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs in the Top Ten of the country charts in 1964 and continued to reach the country charts consistently for the next few years. Their career took another upswing when their 1949 recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was used in the film Bonnie Clyde in 1967. They rerecorded the song for Columbia, and Mercury rereleased the original, under the title “Theme from Bonnie Clyde”-, both made the pop singles charts in March 1968. There were also three competing LPs: Columbia’s Changin’ Times Featuring Foggy Mountain Breakdown reached the country Top Ten and crossed over to the pop charts and its The Story of Bonnie Clyde reached both charts, as did Mercury’s Original Theme from “Bonnie Clyde”. The Columbia rerecording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” won Flatt and Scruggs their only Grammy Award, for Best Country Performance, Duo or Group, Vocal or Instrumental.

Despite their success, Flatt and Scruggs disagreed over musical direction. Scruggs favored a more eclectic approach, while Flatt preferred to play in a traditional style. As a result, they broke up in March 1969. Flatt formed the Nashville Grass to play in a similar manner to the early Flatt and Scruggs. Scruggs formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, which featured his sons and played in more of a country-rock style. Flatt died of a heart attack at 64 in 1979.


E. Scruggs, Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo (N.Y., 1968).


J. Lambert and C. Seckler, The Good Things Outweigh the Bad: A Biography of Lester Flatt (Hendersonville, Term., 1982).

—William Ruhlmann