Clonnie ‘David’ Deese, Jr. one time Blue Grass Boy and more recently part of the WBT Briarhoppers, passed away on Sunday, March 13 at the Rowan Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was 69 and had been hospitalized on Friday (3/11) following a heart attack.
Deese, a life-long musician, was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, on July 9, 1941, and was taught to play the banjo by his grandfather, Burl Deese. He began playing and performing music at age 12 with his father, Tom, with whom he would often travel to Richmond to play on the New Dominion Barn Dance.
His first professional job playing music was with J.E. Mainer.
In 1962, David joined Bill Monroe, a move that came about by chance. According to Doug Hutchens…
“He went to Nashville to take a job with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper only to find the were out of town when he got there. A chance meeting with Frank Buchanan led to David becoming a Blue Grass Boy.”
He worked for Monroe for a few months and of that time he would say, “Our dinner was usually a loaf of bread and a slab of bologna.” Deese regularly attended the various Blue Grass Boys’ get-togethers through the years.
When Reno and Smiley went their separate ways in 1964, Deese joined Red Smiley and the Bluegrass Cut-Ups – they appeared at the first bluegrass festival at Fincastle, Virginia – and recorded together for a few years, before Deese was drafted and sent to serve in Vietnam.
During the 1970s Deese played banjo for Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith’s Crackerjacks, often appearing on Smith’s TV show.
Since that time, he has played and recorded with The Jones Brothers & the Log Cabin Boys, Betty Fisher, and the WBT Briarhoppers, joining the Briarhoppers in 1991 after Shannon Grayson became ill and could not perform. Deese was actually hand-picked by Grayson.
Along with all of the WBT Briarhoppers, Deese was enshrined in the WBT Radio Hall of Fame and was recognized by the North Carolina Legislature under a special bill acknowledging the WBT Briarhoppers’ importance in state history and American music. As with all of the Blue Grass Boys, he was named a Kentucky Colonel (Kentucky’s highest civilian award).
Deese was an accountant by trade, running his own company, Deese Accounting and Bookkeeping, for more than 37 years.