Born Burkett H. Graves on September 27, 1925, in Tellico Plains, TN. Addresses: Record company--OMS Records, P.O. Box 52112, Durham, NC 27717. Website--Josh Graves Official Website: http://www.joshgraves.9f.com.
Josh Graves is considered a pioneer dobro player, and was among the first musicians to have used the instrument in playing bluegrass music. Although he has had a productive solo career, Graves initially came to popular prominence as a member of Flatt and Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys, with whom he played from 1957 until the group dissolved in 1969. Graves remains one of the most outstanding dobro players in both the bluegrass and country music genres.
The dobro, or resophonic guitar, is an instrument created by the Dopyera brothers, who were immigrants to the United States in the late 1920s. The word Dobro is derived from the words "Dopyera Brothers." It is now considered one of the six classic bluegrass instruments, although it is commonly used in other musical contexts, including country and popular music. Graves was first attracted to the dobro as a child, and had originally heard Cliff Carlisle play the instrument on Jimmie Rodgers's country blues recordings. Graves eventually met Carlisle, who provided him with help and encouragement. Other instruments Graves played included guitar and bass, and when he became a professional musician in 1942, it was as a bassist. Graves played with various artists, most notably Molly O'Day and Mac Wiseman. He joined the Wheeling Jamboree with Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper, and was with them in the 1950s when the band performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
It was while performing at the Opry that Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs first heard Graves. They were impressed and invited him to join their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. He joined the group in the mid-1950s, and initially played bass in the band, but soon began playing dobro. His contribution was crucial to creating a sound that diverged radically from that of other mainstream bluegrass music of the era---most notably, from that of Bill Monroe, whose band Flatt and Scruggs had left in order to form their own.
"In the late 1950s acoustic instruments were out of favor due to the popularity of rock & roll; the survival of the dobro as an important instrument in country music can largely be attributed to Graves, who electrified audiences with a red-hot picking style and then cooled them down with bluesy, sweet mellowness," according to All Music Guide. The article added that "an essential part of his technique was a three-finger banjo-roll move, adapted from Scruggs himself." As Neil V. Rosenburg noted in the book Bluegrass: A History, it was on the faster tunes that Graves incorporated the Scruggs roll. "On slower songs he used blues phrasing or the sweet-sounding slides associated with the Hawaiian-style steel guitar accompaniment that had been popular in country music since the thirties. He could play the kind of lead that mandolin or fiddle would take." This became important, because the use of the fiddle had fallen out of favor during this era. Noted music journalist Bill C. Malone wrote on The Iceberg website that "Graves perfected a rolling syncopated style that enabled him to play galloping breakdowns as well as slow love songs or ballads."
Country music was looking for a different sound, and this appeared to fill the bill. Sponsorship of the band was undertaken by the Martha White Flour Company, the grain miller still well-known for its commercial support of country music. The company sponsored regular band shows in six different Southern radio and television markets. To make such broadcasts possible, the band had to travel to each television or radio market to perform. The Foggy Mountain Boys also made continued appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and this made for a grueling tour schedule.
It was also during this period that electronics became important to formerly all-acoustic groups. Because of the increasing need to use microphones for broadcasting and amplification, performers had to learn how to move back and forth in relationship to the microphone in order to be heard during solo breaks. This resulted in an intricate choreography. As Graves explained in Bluegrass: A History, "We had to learn that when you hit the microphone you play wide-open, and when somebody's singing you soften up." He added, "They used to call us a football team at the Opry. Earl was the quarterback, and I was the running back. Earl would hand it off to me, and I'd cut through that hole. One time we had this boy come in---he'd worked with us before---and he'd forgotten the patterns that we'd run. That poor boy, I remember, I caught him on the back of the head with my Dobro neck. Liked to plumb knock him off the stage. Flatt told him, 'You better learn these patterns; you're gonna get killed.' It all looked pretty from the audience." Graves remained a core member of the Foggy Mountain Boys, recording and performing live until the group disbanded in 1969. He then continued to play with both men, first as a member of Nashville Grass with Flatt; then with the Earl Scruggs Revue from 1971-74.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Graves was in demand as a session musician, recording with such artists as Bobby Smith, Kris Kristofferson, Boots Randolph, J.J. Cale, and James Talley. In 1974 he decided to shift his career focus to become a solo artist and session musician, and recorded his solo debut, Alone At Last, that same year. In 1975, while recording as Uncle Jake and Uncle Josh with musician Jake Tullock, Graves firmly adopted the "Uncle Josh" persona. The character had originally been created for comedy bits during performances with Flatt and Scruggs.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Graves continued to work as a session player, recording with such artists as Kenny Baker, John McEuen, and Vassar Clements. With Graves's cooperation, the Gibson Corporation designed a Graves signature-model dobro. In 1992 Graves was inducted into the Hall of Greats by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America.
Graves continued to release numerous solo recordings, including King of the Dobro and Memories of Foggy Mountain, and performed on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's third installment of their Will the Circle Be Unbroken series in 2002. "You can count the innovators of bluegrass music on one hand," wrote Tom Druckenmiller in Sing Out! "Josh Graves is surely one of them. ... Memories of Foggy Mountain is a wonderful tribute to a player who is so often forgotten when bluegrass pioneers are lauded. Hopefully, with the help of this collection we'll take more notice of the innovations of Josh Graves in the years to come."
by Linda Dailey Paulson
Josh Graves's Career
Became professional musician, 1942; joined Wheeling Jamboree and Grand Ole Opry as member of Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper band, 1950s; joined Flatt and Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys, mid-1950s; group disbanded, 1969; member of Nashville Grass, 1969-71; member, Earl Scruggs Revue, 1971-74; launched career as solo artist and session musician, 1974; released Alone At Last, 1974; adopted "Uncle Josh" persona, 1975; released Same Old Blues, 1978; released King of the Dobro, 1996; released Memories of Foggy Mountain, 2002.
Josh Graves's Awards
Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, inducted to Hall of Greats, 1992.
- Selected discography
- Alone At Last Epic, 1974.
- Uncle Josh & His Dobro Cottontown, c. 1970s.
- Same Old Blues CMH, 1978.
- Josh Graves & Friends [1962-63 recordings], Cowboy Carl, 1979.
- King Of The Dobro CMH, 1980.
- Playing It Simple Vetco, 1980.
- The Real Josh Amber, 1988.
- Josh Graves Rebel, 1998.
- Sultan Of Slide OMS, 2001.
- Memories Of Foggy Mountain OMS, 2002.
- World Famous Dobro Starday, 2002.
- With Kenny Baker
- Something Different Puritan, 1972.
- Bucktime! Puritan, 1973.
- Flying South Ridge Runner, 1986.
- Bluegrass Instrumentals [Swiss release], Montana Country, 1988.
- The Puritan Sessions Rebel, 1989.
- With Flatt and Scruggs
- Foggy Mountain Banjo Columbia, 1961.
- Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert Columbia, 1963; reissued, Koch International, 1964; reissued, 1998.
- The Versatile Flatt and Scruggs Starday, 1964; Columbia, 1965.
- Nashville Airplane Columbia, 1968; reissued, Sony/Collectables, 2000.
- Original Theme from Bonnie & Clyde Mercury, 1968.
- Final Fling (One Last Time) Columbia, 1970.
- Breaking Out Columbia, 1971.
- Hats Off! A Tribute to Flatt & Scruggs CMH, 1997.
- With John McEuen
- String Wizards Vanguard, 1991.
- String Wizards 2 Vanguard, 1993.
- String Wizard's Picks Vanguard, 1997.
- With others
- (With Jake Tullock) Just Joshing Cottontown, Jubilee, 1975.
- (With Bobby Smith) Bobby Smith & Josh Graves Vetco, 1976.
- (With Bobby Smith) Sweet Sunny South CMH, 1976.
- (With Bobby Smith) Smokin' Bluegrass CMH, 1978.
- (With Red Taylor) Living Legends Old Homestead, 1984.
- (With Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 3 Capitol, 2002.
- Goldmark, Joe, editor, International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography, 8th edition, Goldmark, 1997.
- Rosenburg, Neil V., Bluegrass: A History, Illini, 1993.
- Shestack, Melvin, Country Music Encyclopedia, KBO, 1974.
- Wolff, Kurt, Country Music: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 2000.
- Sing Out!, Fall 2002.
- "Josh Graves," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 21, 2004).
- "Josh Graves," The Iceberg, http://www.theiceberg.com/artist/23773/josh_graves.htm (February 21, 2004).
- Josh Graves Official Website, http://www.joshgraves.9f.com/ (February 7, 2004).
- Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, http://www.spbgma.org (February 7, 2004).