24 October 2022

Bill Clifton - bluegrass ambassador to the world

Bill Clifton, born William August Marburg in 1931, was inducted in 2008 both into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and into America’s Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame, having previously received an IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 1992 and induction into SPBGMA's Preservation Hall of Greats in 1993. His biography, Bill Clifton: America's bluegrass ambassador to the world, written by Bill C. Malone, doyen of country music historians, was published in 2016 by the University of Illinois Press in their 'Music in American Life' series. Gary Reid's biographical article on him for the Bluegrass Hall of Fame - indeed, even just the brief list of Bill's achievements at the end of it, under the title 'Led the way' - makes it clear how varied and important his career has been.

Weekly newsletter 102, issued by Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, includes a reprint from the magazine archives of a very substantial 1967 interview with Bill Clifton by Dick Spottswood, originally published in BU in three instalments in 1968 - when Bill was in his thirties, resident in England, touring on the Continent, and about to travel to the Philippines. Also taking part in the interview was England's Andrew Townend (1952-2013), then 15 years old and already a mandolin prodigy. Warmly recommended.

The BU newsletter also provides what is presented as a Spotify playlist of Bill Clifton recordings. It is fair to say that this has not been carefully compiled.* Of the forty-seven tracks, eight (at least) are not recordings by 'our' Bill Clifton, and seven of these are definitely not bluegrass - the fact that six come from an album entitled Piano moods should have sounded an alarm bell somewhere. The title 'Blue Ridge Mountain blues' appears twice, but one of these is in fact Ralph Stanley singing 'Let me rest on a peaceful mountain' in tribute to his brother Carter.

*Update 26 Oct.: It can now be stated that (as one would expect) these faults did not originate with BU.

© Richard Hawkins

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