Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
The names of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs should be immediately familiar to anyone with even a little bit of knowledge about American roots music, but they might also ring a bell for reg’lar folk, too.
Flatt (guitar) and Scruggs (banjo) had been playing together in the Foggy Mountain Boys since the late 40s, started recording for Mecury, and switched to Columbia (their longest association) in 1953, where they stayed until they broke up in 1969.
The duo had pop success (something that could rarely be said about bluegrass bands) when they hit the charts with ‘The Ballad of Jed Clampett’ (the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies) in 1962, and then again in 1967 when the version of ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ that was included in the movie ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ made it onto the radio.
If you take a look at their 1960s Columbia discography, they were recording a lot of interesting, contemporary material, covering songs by Bob Dylan, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot, the Monkees, and – as you’ll hear today – the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Apparently Earl Scruggs had himself a progressive set of ears, aimed at the pop charts and contemporary relevance, which would explain the list above, but apparently also displeased Lester Flatt, and was responsible for the duo going their separate ways at the end of the 60s.
The cool thing is (and it is unfortunate that Flatt wasn’t more flexible in this regard) they weren’t trying to glom onto pop trends carelessly.
Their selection of modern material was always made with an eye toward affinity with their sound, and the songs were presented in a straight up hillbilly style, even ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ (though it is kind of funny hearing the lyrics delivered in a country twang against a background of banjos and dobros).
Today’s selection is a 1967 cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful hit from the previous year.
It certainly helps that the Spoonful had a vein of old-timey, jug band sounds running through their catalog, and the subject matter of the song was custom made for the country market.
Flatt and Scruggs deliver ‘Nashville Cats’ in a familiar manner, only breaking out near the very end for a fast-moving, banjo-picking breakdown.
Their version actually charted in a couple of markets in the Spring of 1967.
It’s a groovy little curiosity and I hope you dig it.
See you next week.