In 1945, guitarist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs first worked together as members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the legendary band whose name was used to define the genre of music they played. Less than three years later, the two men ventured out and became stars in their own right. Their partnership lasted over twenty years before they parted ways in 1969. Their most well known songs are the instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” used in Bonnie and Clyde, and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies.
During their tenure, they had a successful regional television program that aired from 1955 until 1969. Martha White Mills, who first sponsored the fellows on radio, continued that relationship into the relatively new medium. Pet Milk later joined them for a time. When Flatt & Scruggs first started the show, they would play live at stations in different cities. At some point, they began recording the programs to videotape.
These shows were thought lost until 1989 when one day in his garage, Bill Graham, who worked at Noble-Druy Advertising Agency, the firm that represented Martha White Mills, found a number of old films and videotapes, including 24 episodes of Flatt and Scruggs Grand Ole Opry. Four have already released titled Best of The Flatt & Scruggs TV Show, Volume 1 and 2 and four more are now available to the public on Volume 3 and 4.
The shows had the same basic rundown with slight variations. They opened with a couple of songs, usually an instrumental and a song sung by Flatt. Next up was a live commercial with announcer T. Tommy Cutrer and a female model showing a recipe using Martha White flour. Then three more songs, another Martha White commercial, another three songs, a Pet Milk commercial, then a number or two to close out the show.
All the band members got their moments to shine, whether Paul Warren leading on fiddle or a duet between John Graves on dobro and Jake Tullock on bass. The latter had a spot between the second and third commercial and included a comedy bit afterwards. Dedications were made to fans that wrote in, and Flatt always included a pitch for the Flatt and Scruggs a picture album song book filled with photos and song lyrics.
Vol. 3 contains an episode recorded in January 1959 that aired from November or December of 1961 and an episode from January 1962 where the band is joined by seven-year-old Ricky Skaggs for two numbers. He plays mandolin on “Foggy Mountain Special” sings the Osborne Brothers’ classic “Ruby.”
Vol. 4 opens with Show #18, date unknown, but the liner notes presume it was around June 1961. The second program aired March 1962 and the band was joined by Hylo Brown, who sang “To My Mansion In The Sky” and “How Could You Forget,” and Earl’s eight-year-old son, Randy Lynn, who plays Mother Maybelle Carter’s autoharp on “Wildwood Flower” and “I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home.” The songs Randy appears on are performed on Vol. 3 as are “Cacklin’ Hen” and “Lord I’m Coming Home.”
Best of The Flatt & Scruggs TV Show is a great find, not only presenting the band in their prime, but is a great look back at early television. The liner notes are fantastic, providing in-depth information about the band, the television series, and the songs on the individual programs. Fans of bluegrass and early television should do themselves a favor and seek these DVDs out. Everyone else should do the world a favor and see what treasures are hidden in their garage.