Don Mulkey passes 

Washington DC area bluegrass bass-playing virtuoso Don Mulkey passed away in Portland, Oregon, on August 19, 2023. He was 93 years of age.

Donald Ray Mulkey was born in Arlington, Virginia on July 7, 1930. He played with the duo, Benny & Vallie Cain, banjo ace Johnnie Whisnant, fiddler Jimmie Delozier, Buzz Busby, and others around Georgetown, Washington DC; Maryland; and urban northern Virginia for many years, chiefly during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He was the number one substitute bass player in the Washington DC area also. 

Sometimes to get the effect that he wanted Mulkey used a bass capo that he devised. While that might stigmatize him as an amateur, his timing and intonation were impeccable.  

He was quite a character, with a great sense of humour and a keenness to chat at any time.

From about 1955 he started playing with Benny & Vallie Cain and the Country Clan, who performed and advertised their personal appearances on Virginia radio stations WINC, Winchester; WSIG, Mt. Jackson; and WKCW, Warrenton; as well as WGAY, Silver Spring, Maryland.   

In the winter of 1962/63, Mulkey with the Cains recorded a couple of numbers – New River Train and Ragtime Annie – released by Dick Freeland’s Rebel Records. 

In the following June the Country Clan cut several more discs, producing a further two singles. Most of these and the earlier Rebel tracks were issued on a 4-LP set, 70 Song Original Bluegrass Collection.

While son Paul Cain played electric bass on the duo’s first Rebel LP, Mulkey was present to assist with the recoding of More Of Benny And Vallie Cain.

Mulkey’s speciality song, Rex Griffin’s Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon is on the B side. 

At about this same time Mulkey helped Johnnie Whisnant, another member of the Country Clan, record his eponymous album.

He had a long career with the Virginia State Highway Department and served in the US Navy after graduating from Washington & Lee High School.  

In 2021 he moved to Courtyard Village, an independent retirement community in Portland, Oregon.  

R.I.P. Don Mulkey 

A Discography 

Benny & Vallie Cain

  • More Of Benny And Vallie Cain (Rebel SLP 1537, released 1974)

Johnnie Whisnant

  • Johnnie Whisnant (Rounder Records 0038, 1974)

Various Artists

  • 70 Song Original Bluegrass Collection (Rebel R- 1473/1476, 1965)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.