Clifton Clowers

They say don’t go, on Wolverton Mountain

If you’re looking, for a wife.

‘Cause Clifton Clowers, has a pretty young daughter

And he’s mighty handy, with a gun and a knife.”

Most of you folks that were around in the 1960s, and maybe some of you folks that listen to country music from that period, will recognize those lyrics from a number one song called Wolverton Mountain. I bet you didn’t know that this song was written about a real person that lived on a real mountain.

That’s right. Clifton Clowers was a real man that lived on Wolverton Mountain overlooking a small town called Center Ridge, Arkansas. The song was written by Merle Kilgore for his uncle Clifton as a birthday present. Kilgore was Hank Williams Jr’s long time friend and manager. He also cowrote the song Ring of Fire with June Carter Cash.

How do I know this? Clifton Clowers is my Grandfather, and Merle my second cousin. What does this have to do with bluegrass music? Not much, except that Clifton Clowers played the fiddle and loved the music.

Clifton lived on Wolverton Mountain most of his adult life. He raised 6 children; 4 are still living, and 2 still live in Arkansas. He raised those children by farming the land, growing their food and raising a pig and cow to butcher every year. Clifton would walk down the mountain every Saturday morning to spend the day cutting hair for 10 cents a head. He would then buy flour, sugar, and coffee with his earnings and walk back up the mountain to do the evening chores. He farmed the land with an old mule pulling the implements.

I remember visiting Grandpa Clowers as a young boy when our family would make the long journey to Arkansas from West Virginia. Some of my fondest memories are after the morning chores, when Grandpa would say “let’s go fishing.” We would then hike down off the mountain to the lake, or hook up the mule to the wagon and go to a neighbor’s pond. Afterwards we would take our fish home, and then Grandma would fry up our catch for dinner. After dinner, Grandpa would get out the old fiddle and play a few tunes under the big shade tree.

I remember that the dogs, the pets he loved, would come and lay down under the tree and listen to the fiddle too. They seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Grandpa would always look over at me and say, “sing me a song, boy.” I would sing and he would always fall in there with a fiddle back up.

Clifton Clowers lived to be 102 years old. He fought in World War I, but I do not ever remember him ever talking about the war. As the song says he whittled with his knife and hunted with his gun. When the song was at its peak popularity, people would flock to the mountain just to meet him and shake his hand. They would always want some kind of souvenir so Grandpa started making turkey calls and different whittled trinkets for them. I think he even started selling them and making extra money, but knowing him, he probably gave away more than he sold.

He was asked many times what his secret was to his longevity in life. His answer was always the same, “A firm belief in God. No alcohol or tobacco.” He lived by these beliefs and even at the age of 100 years was still plowing his garden behind the mule pulling the plow.

There was no running water in the house. There was a well right beside the front porch, and this was the most refreshing water I ever drank. The house was heated by an open fireplace, and as kids we would pop popcorn over the flames. Grandpa planted and raised the popcorn too.

Clifton actually had two daughters, but the song was changed by Claude King when he recorded it because he thought it sounded better as a pretty young daughter. My cousins and I often use to argue over which one was the pretty young daughter, my aunt Burlene or my mother Virginia. Fact is, they were both pretty young daughters. My Mom just turned 89 last September and her philosophy is the same as Clifton’s when it comes to the longevity of life.

My Dad always jokingly told people that he climbed Wolverton Mountain and stole Mom from Clifton, but in reality they met in Memphis, TN while both were attending school. I don’t think that Dad would have gone up against the legendary gun and knife.

The song Wolverton Mountain has been recorded by country, pop, and bluegrass artists over the past 40 some years, and has become a classic in American music. With all of its success, Clifton Clowers never changed. He kept farming and working on his land until the day he passed. He never let this fame go to his head. He actually used to say that he wished that Merle had not written the part about the gun and knife, because in his words, “I never used those tools for that purpose, I just used them to hunt and whittle.”

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About the Author

Buck Green

Buck Green, or John “Buckwheat” Green as he is also known, has performed as a bluegrass musician most of his life. He worked with Lonesome River Band in the 1980s, and wrote one of their more popular songs of that era, The Old Man In The Shanty. Buck currently performs with Jim & Valerie Gabehart on bass.

  • Tony Bentley

    Thanks for that great story Buck. I always enjoy learning the story behind a good song, especially when the song is based on a real person.
    By the way, I was surfing youtube the other day and landed on a Lonesome River Band video. I believe it was Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. Merle has always been my favorite Country songwriter. I believe you sang lead too. Great rendition!

    • Tribute song for Claude King:

      Wolverton Mountain Man (Larry W Jones 03/20/2013) (song#6679)

      Well, I was just a young lad going with the flow
      When I first heard Claude King sing on the radio
      I was at a soda fountain in Louisian
      Listnin’ ’bout a big bad Wolverton Mountain man

      Now, old man Clowers made good hard liquor brandy
      With a gun and a knife he was mighty handy
      He had a pretty young daughter with raven hair
      But Wolverton bears and birds protected her there

      (instrumental)

      Now I’m an older man and time goes marching on
      And it was in March when I heard Claude King was gone
      I wonder if he ever kissed Clifton’s daughter’s sweet lips
      Or if he married that girl on one of his trips

      I know Claude King climbed up on Wolverton Mountain
      Cause all of his dreams were with that young girl he loved
      He took his chances up on Wolverton Mountain
      It was too lonesome down below than up above

      Well, I was just a young lad going with the flow
      When I first heard Claude King sing on the radio
      Up on that Wolverton Mountain he loved her so

      http://kingwoodkowboy.com/WolvertonMountainMan.html

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  • Tuco

    As an aulde traditional music “field collector,” your mention of Grandpa Clowers playing the fiddle really “struck a chord.” (sorry, couldn’t resist). Any chance of there being any home recordings of Mr. Clowers making his music? That’d be a true treasure, regardless of the audio or performance quality. Might be a rare old gem of a traditional tune, or the treatment of even a well-known trad tune in there. Thanks for sharing the info on your famous ancestors. Whether or not there really was a Clowers daughter up on that mountain was always a delicious bit of intrigue about the song.