It’s been a productive, albeit exhausting day. It began with a long run and then followed up with a short bonus drill swim in the pool before a delicious dinner of spicy sweet potato soup and fried perch w/ fingerling potatoes (all washed down with some Fenian Red Ale) at The Sanctuary. My plans for the rest of the evening involve my EZ-Boy, Tina the Cat and Season 2 of ‘Daredevil‘ on Netflix. Oh, there may or may not be some Cheetohs in the picture too. But before I get to any of that, I’m listening to one vinyl album while I monkey around on the computer for a bit, the ‘Nashville Airplane‘ album by Flatt & Scruggs.
I think I found this at BJ’s Records & Nostalgia in Barrie, Ontario during one long ago business trip. If memory serves me correctly, I picked it up because a) it was only $3.00, and b) it has an airplane on it, bitch! And you know how I love my albums with airplanes on the cover sleeve (click HERE).
‘Nashville Airplane’ is the 27th album by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (originally formed in 1948) released in 1968 on the Columbia Limited Edition label, just before their eventual breakup in 1969. Apparently, ‘ol Lester resisted the change in direction (although Earl Scruggs embraced it) to a point that led to the breakup. As the story goes, it all started with the opening cut on this album, a version of Dylan‘s ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘. In a sense, it was the illustration of the same spirit that got them to record ‘The Times They Are a Changin’‘ on the album, or ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35‘ for that matter. Scruggs recognized this fact and embraced it, while Flatt resisted it to the point that their 20-year partnership was split up as a result.
The real irony here is that ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘ is transformed into something so close to bluegrass music that it’s a minor revelation hearing it done this way – it’s that good. The wild rock of the original has been mellowed through a country filter and the rich tones of Lester Flatt made what are amongst Dylan’s most acerbic lyrics into a gentle tune of regret and even compassion. Serious! And hey, the other two Dylan tracks are no slouch’s either. Then there’s the cover of Johnny Cash‘s ‘Folsom Prison Blues‘, Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter‘, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘Universal Soldier‘, and John Hartford‘s ‘Gentle On My Mind‘. There’s all good. Like, really good!
Besides a bunch of songs by new “long hair” songwriters, this album introduced Kenny Buttrey on drums. As a glance towards the future there was also the presence of Gary and Randy Scruggs, who would be at the heart of their father’s next band – The Earl Scruggs Revue. That next band would be a natural progression from what was emerging on this album: a country-rock feel and an embracing of the new “major voices” of the time, just as Woody Guthrie had been embraced previously.
On the face of it there’s no obvious reason for the falling apart of the principal players as there’s a lot on ‘Nashville Airplane’ which sounds perfectly in keeping with what went before. Lester Flatt, though, clearly wanted no-more Bluegrass versions of songs such as ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35′ and also no more drums, his next band Nashville Grass took a step back to “proper” bluegrass, and who is to say that wasn’t a right move? Certainly they made some wonderful albums, and their recording of the long haired hippy mocking ‘I Can’t Tell The Boys From The Girls’ gives a clear enough insight into Flatt’s feelings about Scruggs’ choice of new musical direction. Earl Scruggs though forged ahead, with the Revue band heading off further into country-rock. Not quite Country Rock, but a step away from pure “traditional” Bluegrass, this album represents a very special missing piece in the Americana musical jigsaw puzzle.
Now…about those Cheetoh’s.