Cliff Waldron passes

Bluegrass singer and bandleader Cliff Waldron, early musical partner of Bill Emerson, and one of the leading lights of the 1960s and ’70s bluegrass scene in and around Washington, DC, died yesterday in Virginia. He was 83 years of age.

A native of West Virginia, Cliff moved to DC in his early 20s, and played with a number of groups including The Southern Ramblers and the Page Valley Boys, before timing up with Bill as Emerson & Waldron. The two had started playing together professionally when Bill took over Buzz Busby’s Bayou Boys, working initially as The Lee Highway Boys. But before long, the new name stuck.

With Emerson Cliff has the distinction of recording the first bluegrass version of Fox on the Run, several years before The Country Gentlemen cut it and made it a bluegrass standard. Bill and Cliff’s version was quite popular around DC before the Gents recorded it, and their arrangement is what Charlie Waller used for his version.

When Emerson took Eddie Adcock’s spot with the Gentlemen after three years with Waldron, Cliff continued on as a solo bandleader with his own group, The New Shades of Grass. Recording for Rebel Records, he released a number of stellar LPs that established him as among the premiere bluegrass vocalists of his day. Like Waller, he brought a good bit of material from outside the bluegrass canon into the music, recording songs by Merle Haggard, Gordon Lightfoot, and others before it was a common occurrence.

During the ’70s members of Waldron’s band included future luminaries like Dave and Mike Auldridge, Ben Eldridge, Akira Otsuka, Ed Ferris, Jimmy Arnold, Gene Johnson, and Billy Wheeler. It was always a lively and entertaining show, but Cliff gave up the music business and took a job with the National Park Service in the late ’70s.

But upon his retirement in 1996, he was right back to the bluegrass, forming a new edition of The New Shades of Grass, and returned to recording for Rebel. These later projects continued a similar theme to his earlier album, Cliff’s smooth and expressive voice on a mix of bluegrass classics, new material, and covers, backed by a strong band. He also returned to performing live and was seen on stage for the next decade.

Fortunately, many Cliff Waldron records remain available, including a “best of” project reissued a few years back on Rebel.

Cliff received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the IBMA in 2021, and will be long remembered for his music.

Funeral services will be held on July 12 at the Baker-Post Funeral Home in Manassas, VA at 1:00 p.m. The family will receive visitors the hour beforehand.

We have lost one of the truly special and influential voices in bluegrass music, one which endured until the end.

R.I.P., Cliff Waldron.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.