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Vassar Clements was “The Father of Hillbilly Jazz”

Vassar Clements has been featured on The Daily Music Break previously. He has a great solo in the John Hartford song “Steam Powered Aereo Plane.” It’s highly recommended.

It is not surprising that the list of country and rock musicians with Clements played is long and impressive. It’s noteworthy that Clements was an accomplished jazz violinist. He recorded, for instance, with Miles Davis’ group. The Wikipedia bio says that he was dubbed “The Father of Hillbilly Jazz” and that he merged swing and hot jazz with country and bluegrass.

Clements, who was born in 1928 in Florida, started at the top. When he was 21, he auditioned to replace Bill Monroe’s fiddler, Chubby Wise. He got the job — after Monroe loaned him money for overnight lodgings. Clements remained with The Blue Grass Boys for seven years.

The profiles say that Clements’ ability to meld genres made him a popular session musician. He gained notoriety both through his participation with Jerry Garcia and others in Old and In the Way–which was more a project than a long-standing band–and by his participation in The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s influential “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album.

Music Marauders notes that Clements was known as a great guy. It’s interesting to learn that even a musician with a high profile had to be careful: During stretches the post says that Clements held jobs in a paper mill, as a switchman on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and as a plumber at The Kennedy Space Center.

Above is “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” with The Del McCoury Band and below is “House of the Rising Son” with Mark O’Connor.

Wikipedia, AllMusic, Music Marauders and VassarClements.com were used to prepare this post.