A voice that soared above the pines – Curly Seckler

Randall Franks and Curly Seckler in 1980s.

Curly Seckler

My New Year’s Eve show got me home about 3:30 a.m., and I quickly tried to get to sleep with a plan to rise early and head to Nashville. I awoke on time and aimed my burgundy Chevy Lumina towards the goal a little over two hours away. The trip had been made hundreds of times in my life, especially as my country music career was in full swing there.
I thought back to early trips which found me knocking on the door of a home off Dickerson Road when legendary bluegrass musician and singer Curly Seckler came to the door. I chose to emulate him as a child. He had done this many times and often told others especially as my star in music and TV rose of my initial youthful visit.
His door was always open to me, and he was always generous with his time, whether in person, on the phone or on the road. This trip was however not to knock on his door but to pay my respects to his family and join with his other friends and admirers as we said goodbye to the 98-year-old.
Seckler’s long career combined his talents with the majority of the genre’s first-generation legends from Charlie Monroe to “Doc” Tommy Scott, Jim and Jesse McReynolds to the Stanley Brothers.
He was most recognized by historians and fans though by his role as the tenor singer and mandolinist to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as part of the Foggy Mountain Boys. One of the key artists which infused bluegrass into the fabric of American culture through television, recordings and radio. It was those recordings that also drew me as a young boy, and his tenor that I tried to match as I sang.
As I walked towards the door of the Spring Hill Funeral Home the bitter cold chilled my cheeks. I followed in some of the musicians that were to be singing who made their way to the coffin storage room to practice. I said hello to one of their wives who was waiting and soon found his biographer Penny Parsons, who wrote “Foggy Mountain Troubadour” opening up the viewing room. I was the first to arrive, so after a brief visit with Penny, I was able to spend some time with my long-time friend, just he and I as all the memories flooded back. I reminisced aloud looking upon the voice “who soared above the pines.” I talked about the visits to his home, the first time I looked up at him and his Nashville Grass on stage after the death of Lester Flatt, and was mesmerized by his poise and style on stage, to later in my life when my country music fan club was hosting a Country Music Fan Fair party and in he and his future wife Eloise Warren walked in to support me as just another two of my fans. Soon I found tears rolling down my cheeks and I sucked up the emotions drying my tears. I stepped back in the hall as family members began arriving slowly, the other notable musicians, industry elites, and Foggy Mountain Boy offspring filed in and visited with the family.
As I stood talking to his son Ray at the foot of his coffin, I looked to my left and in came the musicians who had be practicing, the Grammy winning Earls of Leicester (Jerry Douglas, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman, Jeff White, and Johnny Warren), who continued the Flatt & Scruggs tradition. Each, all old friends, stopped and shook hands and moved closer to the coffin. In a few moments, I looked up to my left and there stood Vince Gill paying his respects to one of his heroes. We shared some Curly memories, until Sharon Skaggs came in and hugged my neck and Ricky reached over and shook my hand as he got in the viewing line.
Shortly, we all settled into the Chapel as the “Foggy Mountain Special” played and WSM Announcer Eddie Stubbs led the service sharing the pulpit with Brother Terry Clapp and Gerald McCormick.
Moving performances were shared by Ricky Skaggs and the Whites of “Gone Home,” Connie Smith with “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet,” and the Earls of Leicester on “Who Will Sing for Me” and we watched and heard memorable TV performances by Curly with Flatt & Scruggs  “I Want to Be Loved” and “Precious Memories” and his mandolin player with the Nashville Grass – Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives with “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”
We laughed, we cried, we applauded and we paid tribute to someone we all loved as both a good man who gave his hope, his encouragement and his faith freely to all of us; and to the last link to the golden era of the Flatt and Scruggs musical legacy that will stand the test of time and outlast all of us. As we gathered in the single digit wind chill around his graveside, the Earls of Leicester delivered a song Curly loved singing – “Reunion in Heaven.” Though we were freezing, we all seemed to linger there after being dismissed holding on to the significance of the moment, shaking hands, slowly passing by his wooden coffin awaiting the day of that reunion.  Learn more at




Foggy Mountain Troubadour – Curly Seckler inspires

“First you cross the tie over this way and pull it back around and then…,” is how I remember Curly Seckler describing to me how to tie a string tie as he wore on stage. A lesson shared in my youth from a musical hero whose tenor voice soared in my mind as I listened to Flatt and Scruggs, and the Nashville Grass. I had convinced my mother to take me to see Curly in Nashville at an earlier point because I wanted to meet him and we searched out his home in a trailer park and went up one day and knocked on the door. He was so gracious to welcome us and share some time with an aspiring youth. He recounted this visit many years later at my mother’s home going service.

Sometime later as a bashful young fiddle player, I stepped to the concert area of the Lavonia Bluegrass Festival and find a place on a wood bench and peered up at the stage as the emcee prepared to bring on The Nashville Grass.
By the time my musical ability began to advance, the legendary Lester Flatt was ailing so I never got to see him perform except on TV or listening by radio before his passing on 1979, but on this day, I was going to see his band, the Nashville Grass perform. They were the closest link to the music which fueled my passion for bluegrass. As best I recall, Tater Tate was on fiddle, Blake Williams was playing banjo, Charlie Nixon on Dobro, Pete Corum on bass and the amazing Curly Seckler leading the troupe.
The music electrified my soul. After the show, I made my way backstage and once again was welcomed by a man who truly became one of my dearest friends in life.
A few weeks ago I received in the mail from University of Illinois Press Penny Parson’s book “Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life and Music of Curly Seckler” and I found myself once again feeling like that youth anxiously standing outside the door waiting to see one of my heroes.
As I looked inside and devoured the 239-page excursion walking along the path of the development of American hillbilly music that eventually became what we know as country, bluegrass, and Appalachian folk music, I was deeply impressed with Parson’s great depth of narrative, her enthusiastic approach to the inclusion of research which set the story in history; and the variety of interviews with notable performers and everyday folks who played a part that propels the story forward.
Curly, an International Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer, who is now retired at the age of 96 living with his wife Eloise outside Nashville saw the industry’s growth looking out of a car, bus and truck window mile after mile along the two lane roads crisscrossing America. He saw the American people from the stages of tent shows, movie theaters, the roofs of drive-in theater concession stands, courthouses, school houses, auditoriums, music festivals, and radio barn dances going by many names including the Grand Ole Opry. He helped sell two of America’s consumer staples Martha White flour and corn meal.
I learned more about his professional approach that opened doors for other legends like the Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds and so many others. How his musical and vocal ability kept him always within sight of another opportunity around the corner with yet another group or musician which contributed so much in their own right to our musical experience. The book details his musical intersections with artists such as Charlie Monroe, Bill Monroe, Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott, the Sauceman Brothers, Shenandoah Valley Cutups, Steep Canyon Rangers, and countless others.
The depth of his experience and relationship with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the other key Foggy Mountain Boys sets in stone his place of honor as the final surviving 1940s and 50s member of the Foggy Mountain Boys. In case, that doesn’t ring a bell, he was one of the musicians who inspired Paul Henning to feature Flatt and Scruggs music on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” making the group’s stars a household name.
“Foggy Mountain Troubadour” is a must read for anyone who would like a window into the world of the American South, the rise or country music and its early stars, and especially to gain an appreciation for an American musical treasure – Curly Seckler.