Bluegrass Legends Make History in New York City

On Stage at Carnegie HallDecember 8, 1962. Clapping, cowbells, an uproarious clamor. Carnegie Hall sounds packed with listeners, warmed by the “opener” Merle Travis and enthralled by stars of television and the Grand Ole Opry, Flatt and Scruggs. The appreciative crowd makes itself known after each solo, joke and introduction. Paul Warren’s smooth ‘n tinged with rosin-y grit chucks and high-flying lines, Uncle Josh’s deep in the cone goodness and the sweet pull of the picked five-string are there. Lester Flatt’s gentle croon and emceeing shepherds the evening in all the right directions. I love this concert recording in parts and whole: the Scruggs-Warren banjo and fiddle duets (“Old Leather Britches”); Uncle Josh’s dobro led instrumentals (“Foggy Mountain Rock”) and his duets with Cousin Jake (“Big Ball in Brooklyn”); the sacred songs (“Let the Church Roll On”) and the voice of bluegrass’s Bing Crosby, Lester Flatt (“I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome”).

Carnegie Hall Cover ImageThe Complete Concert has sat in my CD library quietly for over ten years. I naively thought that my other Flatt and Scruggs studio recordings covered the same period just as well. Now when I listen, I wonder “What if Curly Seckler had been singing tenor instead of Billy Powers?”, “Is it true that Scruggs experts have identified notes they consider mistakes in his playing?” and “What bluegrass band(s) will take up the challenge and produce their own Carnegie Hall recording?”

2 thoughts on “Bluegrass Legends Make History in New York City

  1. My buddy, Phil Wells, shared the below story on Facebook and I am posting here on Jim’s Roots and Blues. I hope that others who were at the concert will add their personal recollections. – J.S.

    Phil wrote: “My wife and I had just gotten married that same year in October, and we went to NYC to the concert with friends of ours. That year bluegrass shows in the NY/NJ area were rare, to say the least. Flatt & Scruggs undoubtedly were riding the wave of “The Great Folk Boom” (or “Scare” depending on your point of view). It was relatively easy to get into NYC in those days, especially compared with these days, so we got to Carnegie Hall with no problems. Merle Travis opened, and we were a little put off by his attitude – he “apologized” several times for being there – we “didn’t want to hear him”, just Flatt & Scruggs. He didn’t need to worry; his playing was excellent and the crowd cheered him enthusiastically, which seemed to surprise him. Of course when Flatt & Scruggs came out, the cheering continued. Lester did most of the MC work and he was as relaxed and comfortable in Carnegie Hall as he would have been at a schoolhouse in Tennessee. For their program, they really “went back to their roots” and did many old – time songs. Their music was great, but the way the Foggy Mountain Boys moved around the stage to make the most of the 2 microphones was just as entertaining. At one point, there seemed to be a mic malfunction because some people in the audience were calling out “Bad mic!”, but it affected the music not at all. In response to shouted requests for “Martha White”, Lester commented that he was surprised people up this far north knew about it. So the group did “The Martha White Theme” to thunderous applause. My wife, who is not really a bluegrass fan, did remark on how good looking Earl Scruggs was. Earl rarely sang, but when he did, that also got her attention – “He sang!” The only real “problem” with the show was that it inevitably had to end, but we and the entire audience were well satisfied. You can bet that I bought the live LP of the show as soon as it came out. Years later, Bear Family reissued the entire Flatt & Scruggs portion of the concert, and I think it is available from other sources as well. Today, although she still maintains she is not a bluegrass fan, my wife remembers this concert well, and, like me, is an enthusiastic Gibson Brothers fan.”

  2. Billy Powers..who played with Lester and Earl was my uncle…he was brilliantly funny, and an amazing guitarist and song writer. He was a huge influence on me to write and play traditional mountain music….god bless him. I hope we can joke around and play together on those blessed bright shores above.

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