When Jerry Douglas was assembling a topnotch bluegrass band to record an album dedicated to the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, his heroes, he needed to come up with a name.
“I wanted to incorporate their names but not use them directly, so I came up with the Earls of Leicester, and that included both of them. I am proud of the puns. Believe me, it was not easy. I had terrible names, but when I hit on this one, I knew it was the one.”
Douglas and his Earls play the Lake Tahoe Bluegrass Festival on Saturday at the Lake Tahoe Hard Rock, the first time for the new hotel to host such an event. They will be joined by a host of other artists, including the Del McCoury Band and the David Grisman Sextet, both of whom are often stagemates of Douglas, so there could be quite a bit of mingling.
Flatt and Scruggs are known broadly outside bluegrass circles for two pieces of music, the “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” which accompanies the chase scene in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” and the theme to the “Beverly Hillbillies,” which aired on CBS between 1962 and 1971. They and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, created what is known as contemporary bluegrass, although they themselves never used the term, according to Douglas.
“There really was no bluegrass music as we know it until Lester and Earl played with Bill Monroe. They were big business and blanketed the South. But they didn’t want to be molded by that image, and their split with Monroe was not the nicest. In fact, he tried to stop them playing a number of times.”
The idea of his band, according to Douglas, is to “have fun. We will not go on any extensive tours because playing the same of music night after night becomes work. I can honestly say that when I play this music, I become a kid again. I go right back to when I first saw them and I was 11 years old.”
Douglas, master of the Dobro inspired by Flatt and Scruggs’ Dobroist Josh Graves, is joined by Shawn Camp on vocals and guitar, Nashville banjoist Charlie Cushman, fiddler Johnny Warren (son of Paul Warren, a longtime fiddler with Flatt and Scruggs) and Douglas’ longtime bandmate Barry Bales on bass. He plays with Bale when they join Alison Krauss and Union Station such as on this summer’s Krauss-Willie Nelson tour.
Douglas has been heard on more than 2,000 recordings, including the movie soundtrack “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He has collaborated with everybody from Ray Charles to Garth Brooks, George Jones to Phish. He has 13 Grammy Awards and was three times named Country Music Association musician of the year. He just finished producing “Radio,” a new album due for August release by the 2013 Grammy-winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Ranger.
Of the Earls of Leicester, Douglas said, “I believe this band has the potential to have its own evolution, beyond just doing Flatt and Scruggs tunes, but this record is very, very exciting for me.”
He also hopes that people who hear this music will check out its origins and become as excited by this classic bluegrass as he is. (Noon; $45; hardrockcasinolaketahoe.com)