Fiddle virtuoso was 77.
Acclaimed fiddle virtuoso Vassar Clements died on August 16 at his daughter, Midge Cranor’s, home outside Nashville following a battle with cancer. He was 77.
Born in 1928, Clements was referred to as the "Miles Davis of bluegrass." He began performing with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys when he was just 14 and became a regular member of the legendary group in 1949. He exited in 1956 and began a four-year stint with Jim & Jesse McReynolds and later performed with Earl Scruggs.
"Vassar Clements was a special artist and notable among the early pioneers as well as his remarkable work in recent years," says Dan Hays, president of the International Bluegrass Music Assn. "From the early 1940's to mid 50's, a unique and new genre of music was emerging on the American landscape called bluegrass and Vassar's role in live performances, recordings and broadcasts helped set the standards for what would become known as bluegrass music. In effect, he and his fiddle were integral among the collection of other giants who were responsible for giving birth to bluegrass."
Clement's work on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's groundbreaking multi-artist "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album in 1972 was a milestone in a career that spanned more than five decades. "He was the nicest guy. He treated everybody like you were either family or friend," the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen tells Billboard. "He was the greatest fiddle player in the world, but you never knew it if you talked to him. He did it all and he influenced with [ the "Circle"] album the next 30 years of fiddle playing. Ask Mark O’Connor, Stuart Duncan, any of them."
During his career, Clements performed with a variety of artists including Faron Young, Dicky Betts, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, David Grisman and Paul McCartney. He signed his first major label record deal in 1973 with Mercury/Polygram. He went on to record 27 albums exploring country, swing, and developing a unique sound that earned him the title "The King of Hillbilly Jazz." Ironically, his only bluegrass album was 1992’s "Grass Routes" on Rounder Records. In addition to fiddle, he also played viola, cello, bass, mandolin, guitar and tenor banjo.
The IBMA recognized Clement as a "First Generation Pioneer" of bluegrass music at the 2001 International Bluegrass Music Awards. "There didn't seem to be any musical boundaries around Vassar's creativity or abilities," says Hays. "He appeared to me to be right at home and just as articulate within a jazz ensemble as he was in his collaborations as a member of the Bluegrass Album Band."