With his trademark mandolin style and unequaled tenor harmonies, Curly Seckler has carved out a seventy-seven-year career in bluegrass and country music. Written in close collaboration with Mr. Seckler and those who know him, Foggy Mountain Troubadour is the first full-length biography of an American original. Penny Parsons follows a journey that wound from North Carolina schoolhouses to the Grand Ole Opry stage to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Her account of course takes in Mr. Seckler’s pivotal role in the Foggy Mountain Boys, the legendary bluegrass outfit fronted by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs from 1948 until the two men parted ways in 1969. In addition to providing chop mandolin and a tenor, Mr. Seckler put in time driving the tour bus purchased by the band in 1956. Riding on the bus, in the driver’s seat or otherwise, put everyone on fire watch, because the vehicle, nicknamed the Red Rider, was com-bus-tible:
Made by the Flxible Company, it had an eight-cylinder Buick motor and ran on gasoline rather than diesel fuel. The motor mount was loose, and when the bus was moving, the motor would bounce, causing the spark plug wires to pop off, and the engine would catch on fire. Earl and Curly did most of the driving, while Josh and Paul would often ride “shotgun.”
Curly recalled a number of times when he would glance in the rearview mirror only to see that the engine was on fire. “You could always tell; when it would light up in the back, the thing was on fire. We had some sand in there [that] we’d pour on it.” Josh remembered that he once volunteered to sit in the engine cage and hold the spark plugs on the engine so that the band could get to a show in time. Only after he had crawled in and the bus was on its way did it occur to him that he would not have been able to get out if the engine caught fire.
On one occasion, they were on the way to a show and Curly noticed they were almost out of gas. He told Lester he didn’t think they had enough to make it to the show. “Lester said, `Well, Seck, duck in there and get ten dollars’ worth, at the first station you see.’ So I pulled in there, stuck a ten dollar bill out the window, and [asked the attendant], `Could you run in ten dollars [worth] right quick? We’re in a hurry.’ He went running back there, and directly he come back and said, `Come back here and put the fire out first!’”
Another time, the engine caught fire when the band was at WSAZ-TV in Huntington. By this time the bus fires had become common occurrences. “We was in there, rehearsing our program,” Curly said. “Somebody come in and said, `Your bus is on fire! Your bus is on fire!’ We just kept on picking, and finally we got to the end of what we was rehearsing. We went out there, and the fire trucks had done come and put it out. Earl looked over at Lester and said, `Wonder who called the fire department?’”