Josh Graves – The Legend of the Dobro!

If you want to see one of the greatest dobro players ever then look no further than the superb Josh Graves. Take a look at him at his best in this video:

He was born Burkett Howard Graves on September 27th 1925 in Tellico Plains, Monroe County, Tennessee. Also known by the nicknames “Buck” and “Uncle Josh” he is credited with the introduction of the resonator guitar into Bluegrass music. Graves was only nine when he heard Cliff Carlisle of the Carlisle Brothers performing a few Jimmie Rodgers tunes with the Dobro, which inspired him to pick up the instrument himself. Many years later Graves became close friends with Carlisle who remembered meeting a young, nine year old Graves after a concert in Tennessee.

Having ignored his fathers wishes to stay on at school, Graves quit high school to make a living as a musician and he made his professional debut playing bass with the Gatlinburg-based Pierce Brothers in 1942. But it was on the Dobro that he would shine and earn his stellar reputation as well as cementing the Dobro as a key instrument in Bluegrass.

Graves is credited not only with introducing the Dobro to Bluegrass and Country music but with helping the Dobro survive as a popular instrument. His skills as a player captivated audiences who had been turning away from the acoustic sound due to the popularity of electric instruments from the late 1950s onwards. Graves’ Dobro playing with such influential acts as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and their band Foggy Mountain Boys, came at a time when Bluegrass music was reaching a wider, international audience. Graves’ Dobro playing helped put the resonator guitar sound on the world stage and ensured that from then on the Dobro was considered an essential part of a Bluegrass band. His unique, finger picking playing style, influenced by Earl Scruggs Banjo playing, would be a major influence on later Dobro players such as Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas. From 1955 onwards the Foggy Mountain Boys records featured Graves’ Dobro playing and this new sound, heavily influenced by Graves’ love of Blues music and other genres such as Rockabilly and Rhythm and Blues, drew in new fans.

Graves continued to play Dobro for the Foggy Mountain Boys until 1969, when the group disbanded. During his time with the band Graves appeared on more Foggy Mountain Boys records than other artists and appeared on many of their finest albums such as 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).

During the 1970s Graves switched to a more progressive, rock oriented sound playing with Earl Suggs Review. However after three years with the Earl Suggs Review he decided to go solo and released his solo debut, Alone at Last, in 1974. He continued session work and collaborating with different artists during this time, playing on records by Charlie McCoy, J.J. Cale, Steve Young, and Kris Kristofferson and releasing a duet album “Just Joshing” with Jake Tullock. In 1977 Graves was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.

In 1989 he teamed up with other Bluegrass and country music greats including Kenny Baker, Eddie Adcock and Jesse McReynolds to form The Masters and they released an album, Saturday Night Fish Fry, in 1990, which won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s award for Instrumental Recording of the Year.

In 1996 Gibson released The Josh Graves Signature model Dobro guitar, a reproduction of Josh’s 1928 Model 37, which was manufactured from 1996 to 2005.

Although he suffered from many health problems in his later years, eventually losing both legs to amputation, Graves continued recording and touring. He would often perform alongside son Josh Jr., a multi-instrumentalist who previously served as a member of Ronny & the Daytonas. In 2002, he released his last album, Memories of Foggy Mountain.

Josh Graves died on the 30th September 2006, in Nashville, Tennessee.

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In 2012 Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir by Uncle Josh Graves, edited by Fred Bartenstein, was published by The University of Illinois Press. Based on interviews with Graves taped in 1994 the book was well received and received a Certificate of Merit in the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) and an Awards for Excellence category of Best Research in Recorded Country Music (2013).


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