Pioneer: Bill Clifton
While the roots music of North America has been popular in Europe for decades, one of the leading proponents of Bluegrass, Country, and Old-Time music in Europe is also partly responsible for its resurgence of popularity in the United States.
Bill Clifton (not his given name) was born to a wealth family in suburban Baltimore County, Maryland. Much to his family’s chagrin, he took an interest in country music as a child. A true folk music enthusiast, he made a trip to New York to visit Woody Guthrie and while attending graduate school at the University of Virginia, formed a trio called the Dixie Mountain Boys with Paul Clayton and Dave Sadler. That is when he started using the stage name of Bill Clifton, due to his family’s objection to his musical interests.
The Dixie Mountain Boys signed a contract with Blue Ridge Records and appeared on the Wheeling Jamboree radio barn dance program. In 1955, Clifton published a songbook, 150 Old-Time Folk and Gospel Songs, which became widely popular with bluegrass musicians.
On July 4th, 1961, Clifton organized an outdoor concert at Oak Leaf Park, in Luray, Virginia. The show was the first of its kind, featuring a reunion of Bill Monroe’s original Blue Grass Boys, the Stanley Brothers, the Country Gentlemen, Jim & Jesse, and several other top bluegrass performers. This show, although only one day in length, is considered to be the first Bluegrass Festival. The folk music community took notice and Clifton was hired as one of the organizers of the Newport Folk Festival in 1963.
Following his success with launching the Bluegrass Festival movement, he moved to England where he continued to play traditional Appalachian music at small venues throughout Europe. In 1967 he joined the Peace Corps and spent three years in the Philippines. While there he visited New Zealand where he recorded an album with the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band and help establish a Bluegrass circuit there.
Clifton visited the U.S. several times in the early 1970s to tour and record, this time with County Records. He joined forces with Bluegrass greats, Red Rector (mandolin) and Don Stover (banjo), forming the First Generation. They toured together throughout the ‘70s. In the early 1980s, Clifton moved his family to Virginia and continues to perform at the occasional festival and concert.
Bill Clifton is a pioneer in the preservation and proliferation of Bluegrass music around the world. So while you are enjoying one of the great festivals this season, take a moment and thank Bill Clifton for getting it all started.
BILL CLIFTON 'Around The World To Poor Valley' is an astounding 8 cd boxed set: available from County Sales.
County Sales lists seven of Bill Clifton's great recordings available.