In my previous post, I was talking about the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” on PBS (see https://roymusicusa.com/2019/09/28/will-the-circle-be-unbroken-banjo-steel-guitar-and-a-word-about-robert-hunter/). While I generally thought it to be excellent there were a few minor quibbles, namely the omission of two great guitarists, Doc Watson and Clarence White.
Clarence White was one of the unsung but pivotal guitarists in music. While a member of the bluegrass group the Kentucky Colonels, White helped popularize the acoustic guitar as a lead instrument in bluegrass music, building on the work of guitarists such as Doc Watson. Prior to the advent of the more aggressive flatpicking style pioneered by guitarists like Watson and White, the guitar was almost entirely a rhythm instrument in bluegrass. Many of the most influential bluegrass flatpickers of the 20th century cite White as a primary influence. As a session musician and as a member of the Byrds, he was a pioneer of the musical genre of country rock during the late 1960s and together with Gene Parsons, he invented the B-Bender, a guitar accessory that enables a player to mechanically bend the B-string up a whole tone and emulate the sound of a pedal steel guitar.
On July 15, 1973, while loading equipment into his car after a concert in Palmdale, California, Clarence While was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He was 29 years old.
Below are some clips that showcase Clarence White playing in both acoustic and electric formats. The first is Clarnce with his brother Roland White on mandolin playing two bluegrass standards on Bob Baxter’s “Guitar Workshop” in 1973.
I Am A Pilgrim, Soldiers Joy –
In mid-February 1973, just prior to the break up of the White-era version of the Byrds, White joined with guitarist Peter Rowan, mandolinist David Grisman, fiddler Richard Green, and banjoist Bill Keith to form the bluegrass supergroup Muleskinner. The musicians initially assembled as a one-off pickup band to back bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe for a television program, but ended up performing on their own when Monroe’s tour bus broke down on the way to the television studios. A recording of this broadcast, which was once thought lost, was released as an album in 1992, under the title Muleskinner Live.
New Camptown Races, Dark Hollow (Muleskinner 2/13/73) –
Next we have a relic from a different time. This clip is of the Byrd’s performing Dylan’s You Ain’t Gong Nowhere on the old Hugh Hefner t.v. show Playboy After Dark. Ignore if you can the fake “party guests” and check out Clarence White’s solo featuring his B-Bender equipped Telecaster.
THE BYRDS – You Ain’t Going Nowhere (1968) –
The next two clips are audio only of the Byrds at the Fillmore West in February 1969 with Clarence tearing it up on their versions of the Buck Owens instrumental Buckaroo and on Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home.
Buckaroo (Live) –
Sing Me Back Home (Live) –