Bluegrass pioneer Curly Seckler’s death, which happened Dec. 27 in Nashville at age 98, was not unexpected.
But it was still dreaded by many in the bluegrass world – especially by his biographer, Penny Parsons of Durham.
“I’m writing an obituary, but I basically already wrote it in advance,” Parsons said Thursday. “I anticipated it would just be too hard when things happened. It was a privilege to know him and an honor to be his friend.”
Seckler, a native of China Grove, was born John Ray Sechler on Christmas Day 1919. He started out playing banjo with his brothers in the 1930s.
He went on to play in bands alongside some of the most iconic figures in bluegrass, most notably Flatt & Scruggs, the legendary group formed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
Seckler had a respectable career as a frontman, too, leading Nashville Grass for more than a decade. But his most important legacy was playing mandolin and singing harmony with Flatt and Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” fame, from 1949 to 1962.
He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame in 2004 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010. And yet he had a difficult life and career.
“He’s an unsung hero, one of those guys who put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the music without getting a whole lot out of it,” Parsons said of Seckler last year. “He quit for a lot of years to drive a truck and made three times as much money doing that as he had as a sideman.”
Parsons, a longtime bluegrass journalist, met Seckler while working on a magazine profile about him in 2003. She then began working on his biography, a 12-year labor of love that yielded up “Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life and Music of Curly Seckler.” On the strength of that book, Parsons won IBMA’s 2016 print/media person of the year.
Parsons grew close enough to Seckler and his wife, Eloise, for him to tell her, “I never had a daughter but if I had, I wish it’d been you.” They stayed close until his death.
“He was not doing well the last couple of months,” Parsons said. “He’d had several falls, and the last one right after Thanksgiving broke his arm and fractured his hip. That’s almost impossible to recover from at that age. But he made it to his 98th birthday, which was pretty amazing.”
Funeral services are Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. at Spring Hill Funeral Home in Nashville. Further visitation details are at springhillfh.com.