Sunday, 3 April 2016

Bill Clifton is only days away from his 85th birthday as I write this very small "snapshot" of his musical life. He is currently in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife, Tineke, visiting with family and friends.

Bill has lived and performed throughout Europe since the 1960s. For those of you who may not have had the pleasure of Bill's music and company, this would be a good time to become familiar with some of his many contributions to the country music world. Bill rarely performs anymore, but he is still of good voice, and as always, great spirit!

So in honor of Bill's 85 years. most of it dedicated to the music he (and we) love, I offer the following highlights - though far from complete.

Bill Clifton was born William Marburg on April 5, 1931 in Maryland, USA. His family owned an estate which employed tenant farmers. It was from some of these the farmers, and the radio, that Bill first heard old-time/country music. He learned to play piano, guitar, fiddle and autoharp.

Because Bill's family was very much against his musical endeavors, he used the stage name "Bill Clifton". He formed the original Dixie Mountain Boys band while in college.

In 1952, Clifton made his first recording for Blue Ridge Records, with the Dixie Mountain Boys.

He published a songbook in 1955 called 150 Old Time Folk and Gospel Songs.

Bill organized the second public outdoor bluegrass event in the USA, held on July 4, 1961. It was at Oak Leaf Park in Luray, Virginia (a first similar music gathering took place at Watermelon Park, about a year prior to Bill's event near Berryville, Virginia on August 14, 1960). However Clifton's festival included the major stars of the day: Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Mac Wiseman, Country Gentlemen and Red Allen.

At this time, in 1961, Bill Clifton released his Carter Family Memorial Album (Starday Records SLP146 I). A very personal project for Bill as he had become a very close family friend of the legendary Carter Family. His interest in their music began in the 1940s. Bill has always been a frequent visitor to the their home and music barn at The Carter Fold in what is known as Poor Valley in Virginia.

In 1963, Bill moved with his family to England. By the early 1970s, he was very much an unofficial ambassador of Bluegrass music overseas. Bill's music ventures helped introduce and promote the genre to people in England, Netherlands and New Zealand. While in New Zealand, he formed a band called The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band. County Records (in Floyd, Virginia) released a CD of this band's recordings called Two Shades Of Bluegrass.

While overseas Bill ventured into radio. He had a BBC radio show called Cellar Full Of Folk. Bill also recorded a program of old-time music for Radio Moscow in 1966.

Bill occasionally reurned to the USA to perform and record. He was hired as an organizer in 1965 for the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Along with Red Rector and Don Stover, Clifton formed The First Generation. This trio toured the USA and Europe in 1978. Bill returned to live in the USA that same year.

He started his own publishing and recording label Elf Records in 1980.

Rounder Records released some very classic bluegrass music from Bill Clifton in 1992. That compilation called The Early Years 1957-1958(CD-1021) includes Curly Lambert (mandolin, vocals), Johnny Clark & Ralph Stanley (banjo, vocals), Benny Martin, Gordon Terry and Tommy Jackson (fiddle), Mike Seeger, John Duffey and more.

In 2001, Bear Family Records √≠n Germany released the definitive collection of Bill Clifton recordings in a 8-CD box set called Around The World To Poor Valley (BCD-16425-CD). The set includes Bear Family president Richard Weize's amazingly detailed hardcover book (the size of an LP cover!).

Bill Clifton was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music's "Hall Of Fame" in 2008.

Rienk Janssen and Bill Clifton
Netherlands - April 3, 2016