A Conversation with Vassar Clements (continued)
PM: So how did the unique bunch of players for this album come together? Was that David's doing, or are these just your friends?
VC: David found them. I was going out there on a wing and a prayer.
VC: I had mentioned Maria Muldaur.
VC: And B. B. King, if he was out that way. And of course Taj Mahal.
PM: Oh, Taj would have been great.
VC: Taj wanted to be on there, but he just wasn't around at that time.
PM: There's another amazing cat.
VC: Yeah, he is. I met Taj when me and Garcia and all of us was doing that stuff out there. So I've been knowing him a long time. He's my buddy. Only thing is, you could never tell it's him, because he's liable to have on a turban one time and a cowboy hat the next time, a baseball cap the next time.
PM: Isn't that the truth!
VC: A Hawaiian shirt, an African shirt, and then a cow boy shirt. So you never knew.
PM: He's a man of the world and of all times.
VC: He sure is.
PM: I interviewed Taj one time, and he came forth with such an encyclopedic knowledge of world music, it was flabbergasting.
VC: I'll tell you what, the man can remember things. He does a lot better than me. I can't remember nothing much.
PM: And he would tie in things from Europe and from Africa, and the Celtic influences, in a way that was professorial.
VC: Yeah. And he's been over there. Of course, I've been some of the places, but as far as remembering, it's just like, well, I know I was there and I did something, but somebody would have to remind me of certain things that happened, and then it might come to memory.
PM: Wherever you were, I know what you did: if you were there, you played something good, I know that.
VC: Well, that's all I did. And my mind, I guess, was always on playing, but I didn't know what I played after I left.
VC: I've always been like that. I don't know why. My daughter used to say, "Well, I think you just remember what you want to remember."
VC: But I don't know. I try sometimes, and I can't remember things.
PM: What were David Grisman's and Norton Buffalo's roles as producers on the record?
VC: Oh, they kept it going. They would give ideas, here and there, of what instruments should do what, and if it sounded right on the particular tune that we picked out. And we did a lot of tunes. We worked on it about five days in a row, and there were a lot of tunes to pick from. So that was Norton and David's job.
PM: I see.
VC: Norton was helping David, and he was very serious about it. He'd get down everything with pen and paper and everything and write down notes. He played a big part in the album.
PM: And he played some great stuff.
VC: You always can depend on Norton: no matter what it sounds like, he's going to make it sound good.
PM: Yeah. And I love the numbers with a comparatively little known but fantastic country blues man of whom I'm a fan, Marc Silber.
VC: I know! And you know what, I knew that name and I knew that guy, but unless I see somebody at least once a month--and then don't see them for years and years, it just throws me. And then, of course, all of our looks change, and I see them and I think I've met a new person, but I know he looks familiar.
VC: But we had met, yeah. And I don't never walk up to somebody and say I've never met them, because if I do I'm saying the wrong thing. They'll say, "Oh, yeah, I saw you twenty-something years ago back somewhere."
VC: It's a never ending thing, but I'm thankful.
PM: So who brought Marc into the mix?
VC: It must have been David or Norton. He was working together with one or both of them, I think. Because when I got there, all I really did was play. I didn't know anything about who was coming in. And even after I left, David said, "You're going to be surprised." And I was, and I am.
PM: Wow. So it was just like, "I'm not sure who everybody in the room is, but just count it off and let's play it." [laughs]
VC: Yeah, that's the way it was. And Bobby Cochran, I had heard of him, and I think I knew him, and we became good friends while we was there. But of course, I knew him before, I guess, but that's the way it is when you don't see somebody for a long time.
PM: Yeah. We all have different things that we concentrate on. You concentrate on the music.
VC: That's about all I've really got to concentrate on, play something good, that and try to do the right thing, you know?
PM: Yes. Some of my favorite players through life have been guys, probably like yourself, who you can tell when you meet them that their mind is on the strings, and it's on the strings almost exclusively.
PM: It's a beautiful thing, really.
VC: I do love to talk to people, and they can bring things up that remind me of a lot of important things and good times. But when it gets right down to it, when you're by yourself, I'm often thinking about what I'd like to play.
PM: How come you didn't do any singing on this record? You've been known to sing sometimes.
VC: Well, the songs that hit the table, I really wanted those people to do them because there were some great singers on the scene, there.
PM: Yeah, it's true.
VC: So, I don't know, the tunes just didn't fall that way, you know.
PM: Right. When you write something, it tends to be on the instrumental side, doesn't it?
VC: Yeah, it's always like that. I can't make up any words.
PM: Now, as a famous and beloved instrumentalist, are you a song man, too? Are there any singer songwriter types that you like, for instance?
VC: For me, if the melody sounds good, then I like the song right away. I don't really hear the words. I just love the musical part of it.
PM: Got it.
VC: If I hear somebody singing something that's got a good melody to it, I just really love it.
PM: That's very interesting. Because, yeah, some people say that there's sometimes too much emphasis on the words these days.
VC: Well, I'm sure that most of the people listen to words. But being the kind of musician I am--and I've met some just like me who never hear the words, they're listening to the music. And David is one of them. He hears the music. He doesn't really listen to the words. Of course, if he sits down and he's trying to record something, he'll probably listen to the words. But mostly he's listening to the melody. Sam Bush is listening to the melody. Well, all musicians are listening for good melodies. continue