Think you don’t know – or like – bluegrass music? Think again. You’ve been exposed to it a lot more than you may realize.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Anytime the Darlings came to town, viewers of “The Andy Griffith Show” were sure to get a healthy dose of good ole mountain bluegrass. The Darlings were really The Dillards, an already established bluegrass group from Missouri, plus actors Denver Pyle (Briscoe) and Maggie Peterson (Charlene). Some of the most memorable performances from the Dillards on the program include “Dooley,” “Salty Dog” (“don’t play it, Pa – it makes Charlene cry!”) and “Dueling Banjos” (more on that later).
‘The Beverly Hillbillies’
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Lester Flatt and North Carolina’s own Earl Scruggs, who founded the bluegrass band The Foggy Mountain Boys, weren’t just Granny’s favorites; the legendary musical duo had a special place in the hearts of all Americans because of their frequent on-air visits to the Clampetts on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” They also composed and performed the show’s awesome theme song. “Come and listen to the story ’bout a man named Jed ...” The song reached No. 42 on the record charts in 1962. And now you’re singing it out loud, aren’t you?
‘Bonnie and Clyde’
Speaking of Flatt & Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” originally released by The Foggy Mountain Boys in 1949, has been used in many movies, but none more famously than during a chase scene in “Bonnie and Clyde,” the 1967 Oscar-winning film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Scruggs also performed the song live at the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in Washington.
Sometimes banjos are scary. Like when psychotic, inbred banjo-playing hillbillies are chasing someone through the woods to do unspeakable things to them. Like in “Deliverance,” the 1972 film with Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. The movie has many memorable scenes. One of those we won’t talk about. The other involves a rousing performance of the bluegrass song “Dueling Banjos.” That version was plagiarized from “Feudin’ Banjos,” composed in 1955 by Charlotte’s Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. Smith had to sue to get credit and royalties for the song’s use in the film.
Technically an old-time country music variety show, “Hee Haw” showed plenty of respect to bluegrass and gospel music during its more than 20 years on the air. In the popular “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” segment, co-hosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens played a dueling version of “Cripple Creek” on guitar (Owens) and banjo (Clark), which started with a hearty “I’m a-pickin’!” (Owens) ... “and I’m a-grinnin’!” (Clark). They paused several times throughout for some very corny jokes. Grandpa (Louis) Jones and David “Stringbean” Akerman also showed off mad banjo skills on the program.
‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’
Set in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression and featuring folk and bluegrass music – much of it from Ralph Stanley – “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) owes its acclaim and popularity as much to the music as anything else. In the movie, characters played by George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson form a band called the “Soggy Bottom Boys” while on the run after escaping from prison. Their rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow” (voiced by Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright), never, ever gets old. The T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack, which included performances by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and John Hartford, won a Grammy in 2001.