Late in October 1963, bluegrass singer Bill Clifton and his family moved to England for what was planned to be a six to nine month stay. He remained in Europe for four years. During that time, he played in western Europe, particularly Germany, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland, as well as throughout Britain.
In 1967 Clifton joined the Peace Corps serving in the Philippines. While he was in that segment of the world, he visited Japan, elsewhere in Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand where, although he was only expecting to provide the group some support, he ended up fronting the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band on a recording that they were doing.
In all he was away from the USA for about 15 years, save for periodical commutes to Washington, DC area to record and do a summertime tour on the festival circuit, with Red Rector on mandolin and Don Stover on banjo (the trio performing as the First Generation band).
Clifton and his family returned to the United States in 1978 and settled down in Virginia.
Those 15 years abroad, cultivating bluegrass (and folk) music in those foreign lands has led to Clifton being dubbed “America’s Bluegrass Ambassador to the World”.
This is the sub-title to a new book, Bill Clifton, by Country music historian Bill C Malone and published last month (October) by the University of Illinois Press in their excellent Music in American Life series.
His recording career spans five decades from 1952 to 2004, includes contracts with Mercury, Blue Ridge, Starday, King, the London label (in Great Britain, Japan and Australia), County Records, Bear Family, and his own Elf label and innumerable memorable songs and individual arrangements.
Clifton has worked with many exceptional musicians – an early album saw him share the credits with the Country Gentlemen; Charlie Waller, John Duffy, Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray – Roy Justice, Paul Justice, Johnny Clark, Ralph Stanley, Curly Lambert, George Shuffler, Tommy Jackson, Gordon Terry, Benny Martin, Junior Huskey, Mike Seeger, Paul Craft, Kenny Baker, Red Rector, Tater Tate, Mike Auldridge, Bill Keith, Jimmy Gaudreau, Don Stover, Art Stamper and Jean-Blaise Bochat, to mention just a few.
He is remembered also for his promotion of the Carter Family’s music – he was a friend of AP Carter and he played the autoharp in the style of Mother Maybelle Carter – for his very early bluegrass festival, actually the second one-day event squeezed between the first promoted by Don Owens and the famed three-day event in 1965, promoted by Carlton Haney. Additionally, his early songbook has been re-printed several times and is the template for the many others that followed.
Outside of music, Clifton has worked as stock-broker, served in the Peace Corps and Marines, earned a Master’s degree as well as helping to raise a large family; he is twice married.
Bill Clifton’s many different contributions to the bluegrass world has been immense and they were acknowledged in 2008 when the IBMA awarded him a place in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
It will be very interesting to see how Malone has addressed Bill Clifton’s multi-faceted life inside and outside of music.
Bill Clifton: America’s Bluegrass Ambassador to the World is available from the University of Illinois Press and all good book sellers, both of the brick and mortar type, and online.
It is also available as an ebook from Amazon, Kobo, and Google Play.
35 black & white photographs; and discography
Paperback: 184 pages
6 x 9 inches