Long before they hit the big time with the theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”, for The Beverly Hillbillies, guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt and banjoist/ guitarist Earl Scruggs had discovered the power of television to bring their brand of bluegrass music to a far wider audience than touring alone could muster. From 1955 to 1969, The Flatt & Scruggs Grand Old Opry TV Show featured the duo performing live in the studio with the Foggy Mountain Boys—a.k.a Paul Warren (fiddle), Josh Graves (dobro), Curly Secklker (mandolin), and Jake Tullock (upright bass). Airing predominantly in the Southeast, the show was a huge success for the band and its sponsor, Martha White Products.
If you’re a bluegrass fan you’ll absolutely flip over the content on these two DVDs, as each features two complete 30-minute shows culled from 1961 and 1962. The performances capture not only some of the finest bluegrass music ever created, but also the deft musicianship of Scruggs, Warren, and Graves, as they trade rapid-fire solos around a single microphone. Two guest appearances on the August 1961 portion of Volume 2 by a demure looking Mother Maybelle Carter also stand out, as she summons her sublime powers on “Wildwood Flower” and, playing autoharp, “The Liberty Dance.” Along with the experience of seeing such iconic players in the prime of their lives, what makes these DVDs so special is how honest they are. Lester Flatt is masterful in his role as bandleader (and, sometimes, band promoter), but aside from a dumb joke here and there and the reading of viewers’ names in the dedications spots, very little time is wasted doing anything other than playing music—Hee Haw this is not! And even the sponsor’s live demonstrations of what to do with Martha White’s baking mix are intriguing, as they underscore just how “down home” the production values were when it came to putting hill country music on TV in the early ’60s.