" C L A R E N C E W H I T E C H R O N I C L E S "
The Online Newsletter of A Guitar Virtuoso
March 22, 1997 (Number 6.)
Edited by Etsuo Eito
Copyright by Bluegrass Workshop "North Field" 1997
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Previous editions of "CLARENCE WHITE CHRONICLES" are available
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C/O Etsuo Eito : 2-13-7,Kitahirano,Himeji,Hyogo, 670 JAPAN
No part of this newsletter can be reprinted in any format
without editor's permission.
[ Contents of This Issue ]
* "E-mails from the subscribers"
-- Re: CWC online newsletter -- Rick Shubb
-- the live Nashville West CD -- John Delgatto
-- Clarence Memories Richard Baker
on the Road 1970-1972 --
* * "Memories of Clarence White" -Part II- Written by Sandy Rothman
A Special Contribution from an old friend of Clarence...
Date: Thu, Mar 13, 1997 09:06:15 -0800
>From: Rick Shubb
To: Etsuo Eito
Subject: Re:CWC online newsletter
I will send another e-mail following this in order to subscribe to your
newsletter, but wanted first to respond personally.
Thank you very much for your kind comments about my capo, and your
reference to the article by Sandy Rothman. Both Sandy and I knew Clarence
White personally, Sandy much better than I. I had the opportunity to play
with Clarence a couple of times, and was very much in awe of his unique
quitar style. He was a true pioneer, and I'm glad to see that such interest
in his playing still exists.
Date: Sat, Mar 15,1997 12:03:04 -0800(PST)
>From: John Delgatto (SIERRA@sure.net)
To: Etsuo Eito (email@example.com)
Subject: the live Nashville West CD
DEAR ETSUO (for everyone on the mailing list):
Sierra Records is releasing on compact disc at the end of this month the
live Nashville West album that we originally released in 1978 on vinyl . It
is being manufactured as I write this E-mail. This week our new 32 page
catalog is being sent out with that album listed and other fine releases.
If you're not on the mailing list, just E-mail your address to us. The CD
will not be in stores for several months as we are changing distribution to
retail stores. Marty Stuart added new notes (great addition-he should win
a Grammy for them) along with the original Jim Bickhart notes and the
entire package has been re-designed though keeping the feel of the original
vinyl LP. For the first time, you will see newly discovered photos of
Clarence from the Nashville West period and beyond! There are four bonus
tracks added and I must say, I, along with engineers Bruce Leek and Bob
Katz (two of the best mastering engineers anywhere) did a pretty good job
on transferring these 30 year old tapes!
Yes, Clarence does not use a string bender on these recordings though it
sounds like it!! During this time, Gene Parsons was probably installing
the first bender on Clarence telecaster. Clarence is using his "other"
Telecaster on these recordings-amazing stuff.
Sierra Records is moving forward!
P.O. Box 5853
Pasadena, CA 91117-0853
Date: Tue, Mar 18, 1997 17:41:21 -1000
>From: Richard Baker
To: Etsuo Eito
Subject: Clarence Memories on the Road 1970 - 1972
Thanks for your interest. I was a hanger on with the Byrds from July, 1970
(NYC Central Park concert) until sometime in 1972. When I first heard
Clarence play on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, specifically the harmonics on The
Christian Life, I was hooked on his expertise and special-ness( for lack of
a better word). Only later after hearing him play acoustic guitar in
concert, did I go back for his "first life" as a bluegrass player.
I remember his quietness, especially in contrast to Skip, his
stillness on stage. It seemed so odd to hear the marvelous sounds coming
from the Stringbender being played by such a small unimposing figure. He
appeared closer to Gene Parsons than any other player. The relationship
with McGuinn appeared to my outsider's 19 year old eye as professional.
Roger deferred to Clarence's expertise on guitar in concert affording him
most lead playing except for jingle jangle Byrds songs. Even with
Tambourine Man and Turn Turn Turn, though, Stringbender riffs pervaded.
The purple cape that Clarence wore in concert gave him a showman's persona
despite his quiet demeanor. To me, Clarence was always a gentleman,
polite, and respectful. He did not appear caught up with himself or his
semi-celebrity. No excessive ego was apparent. The Byrds played mostly
one night stands, college gigs in gyms. The sound was quite
variable--sometimes ok sometimes awful. I tried to stick close to
Clarence's amp, focusing on his playing. I estimate that I heard the band
play 60-70 times over a two year period.
I do have some photographs of Clarence, circa 1970, that I have shared
with his daughter in Nashville at the Tribute to Gram and Clarence in 1989.
He always looked very confident and cool in concert. I also loved his
vocal style and I wish he would have been given more opportunities to sing.
If you have heard the recently released collaboration of Jerry Garcia and
David Grisman (Shady Grove), you hear Clarence in Jerry's delivery.
Any thoughts from your readers about the musical direction that
Clarence might have taken had he lived? I definitely could see him ending
up with a similar pairing(s) as Jerry and David. More to follow.
Richard, many thanks for the treasured memories on Clarence White in your
early days. Reading your post, I recall those days when I was a university
student, and when I saw the Byrds including Clarence on TV for the first
time. And, you were standing by behind Clarence's amp on the stage...
Again, thanks for your post! Editor
[A Special Contribution from an old friend of Clarence White]
" M e m o r i e s o f C l a r e n c e W h i t e "
( Part II )
Written by Sandy Rothman
During this time we heard about the upcoming tour for the Colonels - they
were booked at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and they were
planning to drive across the country in their station wagon (with the bass
on top). Jerry Garcia and I had an idea to drive along with them in another
car, and they said OK. We left from Los Angeles (in Jerry's white '61
Corvair) and stopped for a few days in Missouri, where Clarence and Roland
had some relatives (French Canadians) in the Ozarks. We had lots of parties
and played a lot of music together. The Colonels went to the East Coast but
Jerry and I went to Ohio and Indiana to see the Osborne Brothers and Bill
Monroe. (I wish we had gone to Newport with the Colonels, but I ended up
playing guitar for Bill Monroe that summer while Jerry drove back to the
West Coast by himself.) While we were travelling across the country in two
cars, we sometimes changed passengers and drivers in the cars; sometimes we
would ride with the Colonels or they would ride with us. One time I remember
we decided to pull into a gas station and play the same tune (in different
cars) on guitar and mandolin to see if anyone would notice. I don't think
anyone noticed, but we thought it was very funny. We tried to make it look
like we didn't know each other - both cars just happened to have someone
playing musical instruments (and the same song!). We had lots of jokes like
Most of the Colonels talked a lot, but Clarence didn't. Still, he had a
very good but quiet sense of humor and liked to play jokes a lot. Clarence
always said many funny things,but he said them in a very dry way. [Webster's
Dictionary definition of "dry": "14: Marked by matter-of-fact, ironic, or
terse manner of expression." Webster's on "terse": "Smoothly elegant;devoid
of superfluity; cocinse." All of these can be said of Clarence's character.]
Clarence had a uniqe personality. Part of him was like the "cool teenager",
in the style of James Dean or Elvis; part of him was the quiet French
Canadian, a little different from the usual American citizen; but he had a
certain anger or restlessness in his life, which was full of bad luck and
unfortunate events, including his death. When he was playing music, Clarence
was perfectly composed and balanced. More than most great musicians I have
seen, he was able to concentrate his attention extremely well when playing
(onstage or off, although he allowed his attention to wander or experiment
much more offstage).
In the late summer of 1964, after I had left Bill Monroe, the Colonels were
staying around New England. They had many relatives in Massachusetts and
they might have been thinking of moving to the East Coast because it was
easier to find bluegrass work in the east than in the west. Sometimes they
stayed at the Cambridge home of a friend, Annie Johnston, and I stayed there
too for a while before I came back to California that fall. One week,
Clarence and I stayed there together and we played guitar every day, all day
long. I remember we sat on the front porch and played during the day, then
when Annie came home from work we went inside and played. I don't remember
what we cooked or ate or anything else - just the music is all I recall!
Clarence smoked a lot of cigarettes (Marlboro) and both of us liked to drink
at the time.One time I remember we went to the Charles River with Roger Bush
to play music but we drank so much we fell asleep and woke up in the morning
on the banks of the river with our instruments.
After that, I didn't see Clarence or the Colonels so often. Sometimes I
still went to Los Angeles and one time I remember going to the beach with
Clarence, Roland, and Bill Keith to play music by the ocean. By then I was
starting to play banjo more, so I got to watch Bill and Clarence at the same
time. Actually, both of them were very important for me, as a non-southern
person playing southern music. They were both serious bluegrass musicians
who were not from the South, so I felt that it was possible to be someone
like that. Almost every other "hero" we had in bluegrass music at the time
was a southern person. Clarence and Roland had some southern characteristics
(due to their Canadian and Cajun influence from their parents), but they had
been raised in California, like I had; Bill Keith was very definitely a
"yankee" - nothing southern about him, with his conservative New England
upperclass background and education.
Another time I went to see Clarence in L.A. - I drove down with a New York
musician named Fred Weisz who also loved Clarence - this was around 1966,
after the Colonels broke up but just before he joined the Byrds.We found out
Clarence was playing at the Palomino, a country-western club in L.A., and we
went to see him. I talked to him a little bit but mostly we just listened.
He played great electric guitar but I remember being a little disappointed
because I wanted to hear him play acoustic guitar (I think he did, a little,
From that point on I saw Clarence very rarely. I saw Roland a lot more
because we travelled in bluegrass circles. But I always kept in touch with
what he was doing through mutual friends, and I loved his electric guitar
playing as it developed. He was as much a genius in that as he was in
acoustic guitar playing. He was born to be a guitar player, and he was as
great a guitar player in his style as any other player in history.His genius
was to play incredibly subtle and understated, yet so powerful and elegant.
There is no guitar player like him, today or at any other time.
In July, 1973 I was living in Columbus, Ohio, playing banjo in a band with
Tom Ewing. One day Tom came to my house and, without saying a word, showed
me the new Bluegrass Unlimited magazine which had the news of Clarence's
death. He knew how I felt about Clarence, and there was nothing else to say.
It was total shock at the time, and it still feels the same way now, almost
20 years later. I knew Clarence was working on a guitar album, or an album
that was to be all his ideas, and it was so sad that he couldn't finish it.
There was so much more for him to do. Still, his life and his music were
like a concentrate: packed with so much subtlety, creativity, invention,
passion, artistry. It's hard to believe he only lived to the age of 29, yet
could do so much and have so much influence on so many people.(So many great
people have died at the age of 29 - isn't that when Hank Williams died ? But
Clarence didn't die of drug or alcohol overdose - he was killed by a crazy
drunk driver, a woman who had caused trouble earlier in the club where
Clarence and Roland were playing. It's unbelievable to think that someone
like that could end the life, suddenly and with no warning, of someone so
important to so many.)
Tragically, Clarence's wife Susie, a girl from Kentucky that he married,
was killed not long after in a car accident. Their daughter Michelle now
lives in Nashville. Clarence often had trouble with cars. I remember Scott
Hambly once told me about Clarence's car breaking down on a Los Angeles
freeway - Scott came to know Clarence well and played with him often while
going to college in L.A. Many people know about the time Clarence ran over
his own guitar (his D-18) while backing the Colonels' station wagon out of
a driveway just before the 1964 tour. (Clarence left the pieces at Herb
David's guitar shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Herb rebuilt it and Clarence
got it later that spring. Clarence said the guitar sounded as good as before,
maybe even better!) (Amazing!)
Clarence was born under the astrological sign of Gemini.I know three Gemini
guitar players who have been heavily influenced by Clarence: David Nelson,
Evan Morgan, and Tony Rice. If you are Gemini guitar player, please be care-
ful around cars and guitars.
There was tragedy in Clarence's life and it was tragedy that took him away
from this life. He was a gentle person -very soft and very easy to get along
with. He was completely professional but he never forgot the basic elements
of humanity and kindness - the only time I heard about Clarence getting
angry was when Gram Parsons showed too much ego onstage. Clarence was
understated and subtle with his life as well as his music: he didn't want to
show too much ego, and maybe it bothered him when his friend did. In later
years he wore very fancy stage clothes,but underneath was a rare human being
who treated everyone well and equally: nothing fancy about it. Even though I
didn't see him in his last years, I am very lucky I had a chance to know him
a little in the early days.
-- concluded --
This article was originally printed in the Clarence White Chronicles (paper
magazine edition) issued #7 and #8 back in November 1992. However, it was
Japanese translation version. [Editor]
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Clarence White Chronicles 7
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