Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My…

Red Henry

You know, there are some things in early bluegrass recordings that are impossible to beat. One of our favorites is on Flatt and Scruggs's early version of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, where the whole band (except for Earl) is playing the "wrong" chord.

Let's review the chords in FMB: you start out with eight beats of G, and then you go to an E chord for a certain number of beats. Nowadays, most folks change to an E-minor chord for four beats, to match what the banjo is playing. That's how Murphy teaches it, because it's what almost everybody plays now. But on that old Flatt & Scruggs record, the band plays SIX beats of E-MAJOR! It's a wild and woolly sound. It's incredible. It's a hair-raising moment. It's lions and tigers and bears...

Murphy and I have played FMB with that 6-beat E-major chord for over 30 years. The first time we played FMB that way was at Diamond Jim's, a bar in Gainesville Florida. When we heard how the E-major sounded, we both about fell off the stage. Oh, my.

Not many other people play Foggy Mountain Breakdown that way. However, Christopher and I found a couple of people who do, when we were playing for a party in Baltimore last Saturday night. I was playing mandolin. Chris was playing guitar. Our band for the evening was a couple of outstanding area musicians, Mike Mumford on banjo and Ira Gitlin on bass. And guess what? When Mike kicked off FMB and hit that first E chord, EVERYBODY went to the E-major chord. For six beats. Automatically. It was a wild and woolly sound. It was incredible.

Listen back to that old Flatt & Scruggs record a few times, and then try it yourself. It's great. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

3 thoughts on “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My…

  1. Susan Morrison

    So were you all playing at “Madam’s Organ” in DC – where Mike plays often? Oh, no – I see it now – it was a private party !!!! Let me get this straight – Red on mando; Chris on guitar; Mike on banjo; and Ira on Bass – Ummmmmm, I wanna hear sum a THAT !!!!! THAT had to be a KILLER band !!!

  2. Red Henry

    Yes, it was a rather good band! Everybody had a good time.

    We’ve known Mike for some time, and he can really play. Of course, Ira is a fine banjo player (and teacher) himself, but he is also a really good bass player. One thing I didn’t put in the post was that we played Bil Monroe’s tune “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz,” and Ira took an extremely nice BASS break!

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