25 December 2019

Curly Seckler

Today is the centenary of the birth of John Ray 'Curly' Seckler of China Grove, NC, who died two days after his 98th birthday (see the BIB for 28 Dec. 2017). Curly was one of the earliest members of the first generation of bluegrass musicians, playing professionally before the music had been given its present name.

In his long career he was the quintessential bluegrass sideman, a prolific songwriter, and (for years after the death of Lester Flatt) leader of the Nashville Grass. His ancestors, like those of many others in the Appalachian region, were of German origin; his great-great-great-grandfather reached North Carolina from Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century.

Because of the length, breadth, and depth of his experience, Penny Parsons' biography of him, Foggy Mountain troubadour: the life and music of Curly Seckler (2016) is packed with information about the innumerable musicians and others with whom he came in contact. In the space of just three pages, for instance, you can learn what grew in the woodwork of Lester Flatt's station wagon; how close Lester came to pulling a gun on Charlie Monroe; and how Curly was the first person to get Jim & Jesse McReynolds to wear neckties. On the final page, Marty Stuart is quoted as considering Curly 'the greatest tenor singer of all time, and one of the greatest men that ever walked. An honourable man. A just and good man.'

Update 27 Dec.: See also a remarkable analytical study of Curly's career by Richard Thompson on Bluegrass Today.

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