Friday, June 19, 2009

'Come and Listen to My Story ...'

On this date in 1914, Lester Flatt was born in rural Overton County, Tenn.

I guess most people recognize the name when it is combined with his longtime performing partner, Earl Scruggs. For 20 years, Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys were probably the most popular bluegrass performers around.

By the time of his death in May 1979, Flatt had compiled a collection of acoustic compositions of which just about any musician would be envious. But even casual fans could recognize his voice. Honestly, do you know anyone who has never heard the "Ballad of Jed Clampett," which is known as the theme of "The Beverly Hillbillies?"

That's not Lester Flatt singing the song on the TV show. But he and Scruggs performed it many times for delighted audiences. And their recording of the song went to #1 on the country music charts.

Flatt and Scruggs recorded the song in 1962 and released it in 1963. It was actually composed by TV writer/producer Paul Henning, who played a major role in the development of that series as well as "Green Acres" and "Petticoat Junction," but that takes nothing away from the musical accomplishments Flatt enjoyed in his life.

And, three decades after his death, Flatt still lives, if briefly, whenever fans watch "The Beverly Hillbillies" and hear that iconic theme song.

Of course, Flatt and Scruggs made a few appearances on the show as friends of the Clampetts. Acting wasn't really their thing — music was.

But their backwoods country style was a natural fit for the show.