The Earls of Leicester
Featuring Jerry Douglas
When the Earls of Leicester formed in 2013, their mission was ambitious but exact: to preserve and promote the legacy of bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, in hopes of reviving the duo’s music for longtime admirers and introducing a new generation to their genre-defining sound. Within a year of releasing their self-titled debut, the Nashville-based six-piece far surpassed their own expectations, winning a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album and earning six awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
The band wholeheartedly channels the spirit of Flatt and Scruggs while allowing each member’s distinct charm and singular musicality to shine through. And though their unbridled passion instantly stirs up a freewheeling energy, a closer listen reveals the profound mastery of skill infused into each performance. “This is the result of years and years of trying out different instruments, different string gauges, different techniques to try to create these sounds,” Douglas notes. In that process, he adds, the Earls of Leicester eventually dug up decades-old instruments in order to achieve the ideal texture and tone they were seeking. “Everybody in the band plays something old,” says Douglas. “This music just sounds so much more true to form when it’s played on old instruments.”
As Douglas points out, the most crucial factor in forming the Earls of Leicester was replicating the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry that long fueled Flatt and Scruggs. “I looked for years to find the group I needed for the alchemy to work,” he says. In the end, Douglas landed on the lineup of Shawn Camp (Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton), Jeff White (Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn), Charlie Cushman (Jimmy Martin, Mel Tillis), Johnny Warren (son of Foggy Mountain Boys’ Paul Warren), and Barry Bales (Alison Krauss & Union Station) — and found himself beyond floored by their immediate synergy. “I had to stop the band in the middle of the first song, because I was scared to keep going — it felt like Flatt and Scruggs were going to jump right out of the wall,” he says in reflecting on their first meeting. “I’d hoped it was going to be even half that good, and it ended up just taking my breath away.”