Musician Burkett Howard “Uncle Josh” Graves, master of Dobro, dies

From the Tennessean – Burkett Howard “Uncle Josh” Graves, whose bluesy Dobro innovations helped keep that curious and difficult instrument alive in country and bluegrass music, died Saturday in Nashville after a lengthy illness.

According to his family, Mr. Graves was 79 years old, though differing dates of birth are listed in various publications.

If Mr. Graves’ age was in question, the timelessness and agelessness of his playing are not.

Three fingers on Mr. Graves’ right hand struck his Dobro strings in a rolling manner that allowed him great speed, and the silver bar that he held in his left hand produced remarkable resonance and tuneful melodies. One of only a few professional Dobro players in the 1950s when he joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, he exhibited dynamic musicianship and stage presence that reached audiences who watched Flatt and Scruggs’ TV show and came to concerts.

“Playing straight hillbilly music, which we now call bluegrass, on the Dobro back then was unheard of,” Scruggs said on Sunday. “That instrument was almost out of the picture. Brother Oswald was playing Dobro for Roy Acuff, and he was a great, great player, but Josh could also do that up-tempo stuff. Josh really had it all as a musician.”

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