12 December 2019

A major milepost overlooked - and celebrated

The BIB editor writes:

Apologies to everyone for overlooking a major anniversary in bluegrass history which was staring me in the face.

Seventy years and a day ago, on 11 December 1949, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Curly Seckler, Benny Sims, and Howard Watts entered a recording studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the band's third recording session for the Mercury label. The eight numbers they cut included their first recorded instrumental:  'Foggy Mountain Breakdown', which was released on 78 rpm the following March and went on to become an icon of bluegrass music, with effects that reverberated through mainstream culture.

Fortunately, this event has been appropriately celebrated. Two months ago the University of Illinois Press published Thomas Goldsmith's Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown: the making of an American classic in their 'Music in American Life' series. Two chapters, totalling twenty-two pages, are devoted to how the tune works and how it was recorded; but as well as this close focus, 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' serves as the pivotal point for a detailed survey of Scruggs's life, musical career, and legacy.

PS: Thanks to Frank Robinson for access to Neil Rosenberg's discography of Flatt & Scruggs, published in the Journal of Country Music.

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