07 October 2021

Bluegrass and tommy guns

The BIB editor writes:

Thanks to Denis McCarthy for his comment on yesterday's post 'The Sackville String Band c.1985 on video'. In response to Denis's two questions:

(1) Yes, the '1920s gangster' motif was anachronistic, but the Sackvilles were at least in good company. Blame it on the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde and its use of Earl Scruggs's 'Foggy Mountain breakdown' on the soundtrack. (The story of how that came about is in chapter 12 (pp 101-116) of Thomas Goldsmith's 2019 book Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain breakdown: the making of an American classic.)

To benefit from the success of the film and the music, Flatt & Scruggs themselves brought out the 1968 LP The story of Bonnie & Clyde, with new songs written by Tom T. Hall (see image above, showing the whole band in gangster outfits; Lester holds the tommy gun, and Earl the violin case). Among other bands who rode this wave, Oregon's Sawtooth Mountain Volunteers (later known as the Sawtooth Mountain Boys) appeared similarly dressed, complete with car and moll, on the front cover of the May 1968 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited.

(2) I last saw Jimmy Kelly over twelve years ago in Dalkey, and would be glad to hear from him again. As the Sackville videos show, he was a highly talented musician - the only Irish bluegrass musician, as far as I know, to have published an instruction method for 5-string banjo - and his withdrawal from the scene is greatly to be regretted. Also performing on bluegrass banjo in the early 1970s were Brendan Sheridan from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, and Brendan O'Reilly of the band Casterbridge Union.

© Richard Hawkins

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