“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” helped to bring bluegrass into the mainstream and remains an enduring classic of American popular culture. In the early 1960s, bluegrass music was a relatively niche genre that was primarily enjoyed by a small but passionate group of fans. All that changed in 1962 with the debut of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and its now-iconic theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” written by Paul Henning and performed by bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
The song’s lyrics tell the story of Jed Clampett’s journey from the hills of Tennessee to the “hills of Beverly,” cleverly and concisely depicting their changing fortune from poverty to wealth simply because a poor farmer discovered crude oil on his property while “shooting at some food.” The lyrics are full of colorful imagery and clever wordplay, and the catchy melody has made the song a classic of American television history.
Henning, who also created and produced the “The Beverly Hillbillies,” was inspired to write the song after watching the opening sequence of the show, which featured a montage of the Clampett family traveling from their rural home to Beverly Hills in a beat-up old truck. Airing from 1962 to 1971, the show became an instant hit, and the theme song introduced bluegrass to a national audience.
Born on Sept. 16, 1911, in Missouri, Henning started his career as a radio script writer in the 1940s, eventually moving on to write for television in the 1950s. In addition to “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Henning also created, produced and wrote the theme songs for “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” These shows were known for their humorous take on rural life and were highly popular among audiences at the time, and their theme songs became some of the most recognizable and beloved theme songs in television history. Henning passed away on March 25, 2005, at the age of 93, leaving behind a legacy of entertaining and beloved television shows.
Flatt and Scruggs were already established musicians and had a long history of working together when they were approached to perform “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.” Flatt played guitar and sang lead vocals, while Scruggs played banjo and provided backup vocals. The duo’s performance of the “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was so popular that it became a hit in its own right, reaching the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1963. The song won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1963.
The Flatt & Scruggs band, The Foggy Mountain Boys, was a major force in introducing bluegrass music to America through national television, radio and appearances at schoolhouses, coliseums and major universities around the country during the years they played together beginning in 1948.
Scruggs wrote and recorded one of bluegrass music’s most famous instrumentals, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which was used in the soundtrack for the film “Bonnie & Clyde.”
After parting with Scruggs in 1969, Flatt continued successfully with his own group, “The Nashville Grass,” performing until shortly before his death in 1979. Scruggs embarked upon a solo career with his sons Randy (on guitar) and Gary (on bass) as “The Earl Scruggs Revue” until his death in 2012.
The legacy of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” lives on today, and the song remains a beloved part of American culture, clearing a path for the use of bluegrass songs in other shows and movies.
“The Dukes of Hazzard,” the popular 1980s TV show used bluegrass music in its theme song, “Good Ol’ Boys,” which was performed by Waylon Jennings. The song has become a classic in its own right and helped to popularize bluegrass music among mainstream audiences.
The 1990s show, “Northern Exposure,” used a mix of folk, country and bluegrass music in its soundtrack, with songs from artists such as Iris DeMent and Alison Krauss.
A crime drama series called “Justified,” which aired from 2010 to 2015, used a mix of bluegrass and country music in its soundtrack, with songs from artists such as The Steeldrivers and Darrell Scott.
Netflix’s series, “Ozark,” which premiered in 2017 and recently aired its final episode, features bluegrass music in its opening credits and throughout the show’s soundtrack. The music helps to set the mood for this dark and suspenseful crime drama.
The wildly popular modern western series, “Yellowstone,” which premiered in 2018, features a mix of country and bluegrass music in its soundtrack. The show’s theme song, “Yellowstone,” is performed by Ryan Bingham and sets the tone for the show’s gritty, frontier-inspired setting.
In this publicity photo of Buddy Ebsen and singer Roy Clark (as “Myrtle Halsey”) for the television program “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Clark arrives at the Hillbillies’ home as their “Cousin Roy” from “back home.” He’s there to sell medicine made by his mother, Myrtle (also played by Roy Clark), and is willing to go to extremes to do that, even dressing as a woman to try to fool them.