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Bluegrass Bluesman

Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir

Josh Graves
Edited by Fred Bartenstein
Foreword by Neil Rosenberg
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Bluegrass Bluesman
    Book Description:

    A pivotal member of the hugely successful bluegrass band Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Dobro pioneer Josh Graves (1927-2006) was a living link between bluegrass music and the blues, maintaining ties with black artists and comporting himself as a classic bluesman with a gold tooth and snappy headgear. In Bluegrass Bluesman, this influential performer shares the story of his lifelong career in music._x000B__x000B_In lively anecdotes, Graves describes his upbringing in East Tennessee and the climate in which bluegrass music emerged during the 1940s. Deeply influenced by the blues, he adapted Earl Scruggs's revolutionary banjo style to the Dobro resonator slide guitar and gave the Foggy Mountain Boys their distinctive sound. Graves's accounts of daily life on tour through the 1950s and 1960s reveal the band's dedication to musical excellence, Scruggs's leadership, and an often grueling life on the road. He also comments on his later career when he played in Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and the Earl Scruggs Revue and collaborated with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Baker, Eddie Adcock, Jesse McReynolds, Marty Stuart, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, and his three musical sons. A colorful storyteller, Graves brings to life the world of an American troubadour and the mountain culture that he never left behind. Also included are tributes from more than twenty of Josh Graves's musical contemporaries and disciples, along with material on his instruments and repertoire._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09473-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Neil V. Rosenberg

    In 1955 Burkett Howard “Uncle Josh” Graves changed the sound of bluegrass music when he added a new instrumental voice, that of the Dobro,¹ to the five instruments—fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, and banjo—first heard together in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys of the mid-1940s.

    Graves’s Dobro became part of bluegrass music when he joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’s band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Subsequently he participated in all of their Columbia recording sessions except one, more than any other band member.

    Lester and Earl hired him to work as bassist and as a comedian in the role...

    (pp. ix-xii)
    Fred Bartenstein

    This book began in an unexpectedly twenty-first-century way. In late 2008 my grandson Zachary had just set up a Facebook account for me. In one of my first posts, I mentioned that I was looking for some new projects. Barry Willis, author and compiler of America’s Music: Bluegrass (Pine Valley Music, 1989), who saw the post, knew of my sideline career—as a bluegrass historian, journalist, and broadcaster—pursued in fits and starts since 1965 when I attended the first multiday bluegrass festival at Fincastle, Virginia, at the age of fourteen.

    Willis asked if I’d like to take up an...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Josh Graves

    There’s a story on me, I guess—where I come from and why. There’s nothing fake about me. I just play it the way it comes down; I wouldn’t hype nobody. And I think you’d rather have it that way. I’m just an ol’ country boy still, at heart, and that old brogue¹—as you can tell—is still there, and it’ll never change.

    I’d like to dedicate this book to my grandchildren. I’ve got twelve of them.² I hope it will be something that they can remember me by when I’m gone. Maybe one of them—who knows?—will...

  6. 1 1927–1942, A Tennessee Childhood
    (pp. 1-11)

    I was born September 27, 1927, in Tellico Plains, in Tennessee. Nothing there but mountains, and that’s what I love.

    The doctor that brought me into the world was named Dr. Rogers. He could drink more whiskey than you can carry in a truck. I was born at home; there wasn’t no such thing as a hospital. All the kids were. A midwife would be there, and then the old doctor would come later and see if everything was all right. I remember when my baby brother was born, in three days my mama was out hanging out her washing....

  7. 2 1942–1955, A Musical Apprenticeship
    (pp. 12-21)

    The only trouble I ever caused my parents was being on the road and being gone. They knew I smoked cigarettes, but they knew I didn’t drink much. We didn’t even have a telephone. Now, I could call home and say, “How is everything going?” You couldn’t do that then. Never even thought about it. I’d be gone for a week or two weeks, and they didn’t know if I was dead or living.

    When I started in show business in 1942 down in Knoxville, Tennessee, I was working with the Pierce Brothers. We had a little group that we...

  8. 3 1955–1969, Part 1, Foggy Mountain Boy
    (pp. 22-33)

    I had met Flatt and Scruggs while I was working with Esco Hankins down in Kentucky. So when we got to Nashville, I got a call from Earl Scruggs. Earl said, “We’re needing a man, and I wonder if you’d be interested.” I went ahead and worked my notice with Mac Wiseman.

    We stopped at the old Tulane Hotel. There was a place there called the Pepper Pot; all the musicians hung out there. Stoney Cooper tried to hire me to come back, and I said, “No, I got another job.” I called Earl and nobody knew where I was...

  9. 4 1955–1969, Part 2, Life on the Road and the Breakup
    (pp. 34-44)

    You don’t ride with somebody that long and not think a hell of a lot of them. We had some good times. I’ve seen us play poker on that bus. . . . I remember one time the generator was going out, and we couldn’t use the light back there. We tied a flashlight up over a bunk and played poker. We’d do that all the time.

    One time we was traveling when Paul Warren and I first went with them. We was going down through Georgia, and Paul was driving, and there was three in the front and three...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 1969–1994, King of the Dobro
    (pp. 45-57)

    Earl quit for a time after the breakup. Flatt told me he was going to keep working and asked me if I wanted to. I said, “Yes.” So he told me, “Get me a couple of pickers.” I contacted Vic Jordan and told him I’d heard he and Roland White were leaving Bill Monroe. If Flatt had known that, he wouldn’t have took them. Vic said they were going to Germany for three or four days, but they’d give their notice when they got back. So I just brought them on before Flatt knew what was happening. There was Jake...

  12. 6 A Man of Many Talents
    (pp. 58-68)

    I used to write a lot. “Come Walk with Me” did real well. I ended up paying a lot of old bills with that song. Actually I wrote it for Benny Martin. I sat right here at this table when we lived at Four Way, me and Evelyn; she helped me with it. I wrote it on a piece of brown sack paper. Curly Seckler and I sang it for Lester, and he just walked off. Benny played the fiddle on Wilma Lee and Stoney’s cut, one of the biggest records they ever had.¹

    I was riding home from doing...

  13. 7 Reflections on Bluegrass Old and New
    (pp. 69-78)

    The thing somebody always wonders is where did the term bluegrass music come from? How could you get bluegrass music out of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs? Scruggs was from North Carolina, and Flatt, Paul, Jake, and I were from East Tennessee. But what happened on that deal is Bill Monroe had the Blue Grass Boys, and he’d always say “the music that I invented.” But if it hadn’t been for Flatt and Scruggs, there wouldn’t have been that sound. It’s stuff that we grew up with in those mountains, Earl, me, and Lester. How in the world can you...

  14. 8 A Family Musical Legacy
    (pp. 79-88)

    Evelyn and I raised some of the finest musicians, I believe, in this part of the country. That sounds like a father bragging. I ain’t got one that’ll take a drink. I ain’t got one that’ll smoke. I wonder where they got that from? I’ve done everything in my life. I’ve been wilder than a March hare. I never got on dope or nothing like that, but I’d drink any whiskey or beer or whatever, and if you said, “Let’s go to California,” I’d go with you. But I’d always come right back.

    I guess I’m funny about my boys....

  15. 9 Testimony from Josh Graves’s Contemporaries and Those He Influenced
    (pp. 89-112)

    He’s been around the world, and I’ve seen it all through his eyes. I did miss him. The kids were in school. That kept me pretty busy. When he was with Wilma Lee and Stoney, he’d be gone for a week or two, and on Sunday or Monday, when he’d be coming home, it would be like getting ready for a party. I’d get my hair rolled and get the boys cleaned up. I knew he had to be gone. He didn’t just belong to me—he belonged to the world.

    From “A Day in the Life of Josh Graves,”...

  16. APPENDIX A: Josh, “Julie,” and “Cliff” (with the Seahorse Inlay), the Two Main Instruments Played by Josh Graves between 1956 and 2006
    (pp. 113-114)
    Bobby Wolfe
  17. APPENDIX B: Josh’s Repertoire: Tunes and Songs He Featured While a Member of the Foggy Mountain Boys, 1955–1969
    (pp. 115-116)
    Stacy Phillips
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 117-126)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 127-134)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 135-145)