Uncle Josh Graves

Bluegrass Dobro player


Burkett H. ("Uncle Josh") Graves, Dobro player: born Tellico Plains, Tennessee 27 September 1925; married (three sons, two daughters); died Nashville, Tennessee 30 September 2006.

That the Dobro guitar is today indelibly associated with bluegrass music is a tribute to Uncle Josh Graves. His long-time association with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs gave the instrument exposure at a time when bluegrass was developing an international following and the duo were enjoying cross-over hits such as "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (1962) and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (1967).

In addition, his raw, blues-based style, modelled on Scruggs's three-finger banjo picking technique, would prove a major influence on later Dobro masters such as Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas.

Born at Tellico Plains, Tennessee, in 1925, Burkett Graves was drawn to the unique sound of the Dobro as a child, having heard it played by Cliff Carlisle on Jimmie Rodgers's recordings. In time his interest in the instrument would be nurtured by Carlisle, but it was as a bassist with the Gatlinburg-based Pierce Brothers that he made his professional début in 1942. He then worked with Esco Hankins, with Mac Wiseman and as a member of Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper's Clinch Mountain Clan, and further polished the comedic stage persona he had adopted as "Uncle Josh".

When the Coopers moved to Nashville to appear on the Grand Ole Opry, in 1957, Graves went with them and met Flatt and Scruggs. He joined them, shifting from bass to Dobro after just one month, and remained a member of their Foggy Mountain Boys until they went their separate ways in 1969. He appeared on their finest albums, including Songs of Glory (1960), Songs of the Famous Carter Family (1961), Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall (1962), Town and Country (1966) and Hear the Whistle Blow (1967).

From 1969 to 1971 he worked as a member of Flatt's Nashville Grass and then, in 1971, switched allegiance to the more progressive, rock-orientated sound of the Earl Scruggs Revue. He played on a clutch of the Revue's albums, including Live at Kansas State (1972) and Rocking Across the Country (1973) and made a telling contribution to Kris Kristofferson's Jesus was a Capricorn (1973).

In 1974 he cut his solo début, Alone at Last. A series of acclaimed solo and collaborative projects followed, including Just Joshing, with the former Foggy Mountain Boy Jake Tullock (1975), Grass 'n' Jazz, with Joe Maphis (1977), Sing Away the Pain, with Vassar Clements (1979), and King of the Dobro (1982). In 1989 he joined forces with the banjo player Eddie Adcock, the fiddler Kenny Baker and mandolinist Jesse McReynolds to form an all-star quartet, the Masters; their eponymous album won a clutch of awards.

Graves's Memories of Foggy Mountain (2002) proved a fitting swansong.

Paul Wadey

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