Puremusic interview with
Vassar Clements

Perhaps like many who will enjoy the interview that follows, among my first recollections of Vassar’s playing is the 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recording Will the Circle Be Unbroken. As long ago as that seems (and is), he’d already been at it for over twenty years! In 1949, although only 14 years old and still in school, he began playing with Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.

Aside from a few years off early on to check out some other things, Vassar’s been playing music professionally ever since. He’s recognized as the most genre-bending fiddler ever. "The Father of Hillbilly Jazz" is a handle that comes from several CDs he cut at that crossroads, but you can hear jazz and blues in any of the playing he’s done. He grew up listening to big band and Dixieland, and still listens to a lot of it today. Vassar says that many of the tunes he writes or passages he’ll fly into in a solo come from half remembered horn lines deep in his musical memory.

Between his beginnings with Bill Monroe and the Circle album, Clements did many years with Jim and Jesse and then years with the late and much loved John Hartford, a lifelong friend who gave him the legendary fiddle he plays today. Circle turned a whole generation of hippies and acoustic music fans on to his music, and the children of that generation are following him today, as his popularity continues to recycle. The Old & In the Way album of 1975 endeared Vassar to the global legions of Grateful Dead fans and many others. David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc Records put out 2 more volumes of Old & In the Way in the late 90s (culled from live recordings in 1973) that many consider far superior to the original Arista release, they’re called Breakdown and That High Lonesome Sound. Then in 2002, Acoustic Disc released Old & In the Gray, a splendid revisitation. (see our review)

It was Grisman and co-producer Norton Buffalo who brought to fruition the idea that Vassar put forth about cutting a blues record, one of the few things he hadn’t yet done per se but was doing all along. Maria Muldaur, Charlie Musselwhite, Roy Rogers, and Elvin Bishop are just a few members of the cast that make it real. (Livin' With The Blues won't be in stores for a few weeks, but you can get it early direct from Acoustic Disc.) A new Vassar Clements record is always cause for applause, but a telephone call with the legend is something special, certainly for this writer. We appreciate his time, and our friend Rob Bleetstein and Midge Cranor for hooking us up. And now, in his own words, we bring you a portrait of fiddle master Vassar Clements.      continue to interview