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January 12, 2009

Vassar Clements - The Bluegrass Session

Another of IncaRoad's great Flying Fish upz...

I'd place Vassar as #3 innovative American fiddler after Richard Greene and Scotty Stoneman. And yeah, I'd say he's up there with Joe Venuti and Stephanne Grappelli in the jazz world too. Out of all of them, he's the most versatile, able to adapt his playing to whatever musicians he's with, in any style.

Since beginning his career as a session musician in Nashville, Tennessee during the 1960s, Vassar Clements has gone on to become perhaps the best-known fiddler in the United States, or perhaps the world. Renowned for his willingness to play music reflecting a wide range of genres--from traditional bluegrass and country, to pop, rock, swing, and even jazz--Clements has won numerous awards over the years since he first transcended his original status as a sideman and moved to center stage. With five Grammy nominations and more than 3,000 recorded performances to his credit, critics have-- in reference to another world-class violinist--dubbed him the "Isaac Stern" of the fiddle. With a multi-dimensional, riveting, jazzy style that is characterized by a spontaneous, moody feel and a lighting-fast delivery, Clements does more than just perform a piece of music when he draws a bow across the strings of his eighteenth-century fiddle; he recreates it, reshapes it, gives it new life. In addition to his mastery of several musical instruments--including violin and viola, cello, string bass, guitar, mandolin, and banjo--he is also a prolific composer of instrumental music. Clements has accomplished all this despite the fact that he does not read a lick of music.
-from this bio

Vassar says, "actually I heard more swing than country or bluegrass while I was growing up in Florida. I've always loved that kind of rhythm." Back then he was just a young fiddler, naively interpreting on his instrument the sounds he was hearing his Big Band idols play.

"I used to sit in with combos in Florida, and I even won dance contests during the Big Band era. I was playing jazz along with them, but at this time, I had never heard of Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venutti or any of those great guys. Neither had I ever heard much western swing by Bob Wills. Somehow, I think the swing style, subconsciously has always come through in almost everything I've played."

Instrumentally, Vassar boldly blazes a trail for his band. His fiddle solos soar and glide gently over the rhythm in a manner reminiscent of saxophonist Lester Young's work with the Count Basie Band decades ago. But what perhaps surprises even Vassar's most ardent admirers is his vocals, another definite statement of his affection for cultural roots and family ties.

AMG Review by Eugene Chadbourne:
There are other recordings by this artist that might be better known, yet this is the title that fans of bluegrass fiddle most often seem to choose as the best by Vassar Clements. Other devotees of the 1977 Flying Fish release, actually recorded the previous year on the day that Jimmy Carter was elected, go further and proclaim that the album's title signifies more than it was intended to. The Bluegrass Sessions is the essential album in that genre, in other words, the one to take to a desert island or wherever else people flock to with extremely truncated record collections. Arguing against that point of view would be those that consider a drum set on a bluegrass recording an abomination, enough to make Jesus Christ come down off the cross. The presence of brothers Bobby Osborne and Wynn Osborne on the session could then turn the discussion into a personal vendetta since it was their band that was early on in introducing just such instrumentation into the bluegrass scene, bringing up the volume of PA mixes at festivals in the process. Like most dogma associated with critical opinion, however, something of an impasse has to be reached attempting to reconcile this notion of the Osborne clan as traitors to the cause when every time the brothers open their mouths to sing such sweet sounds come out. The version of Bill Monroe's "It's Mighty Dark" is mighty magnificent, bluegrass as pure as its ever been planted and grown. Vocals as great as this on a Clements record from the '70s are also something of a relief, to be sure, since low points on other albums such as The Vassar Clements Band inevitably involve sidemen stepping forward to both sing and establish eclecticism: awful funk, mediocre Southern rock, wimpy whatever. Stylistic versatility would really be the only aspect of the Clements package that is missing here and some listeners might be whispering thanks for that. Sticking close to bluegrass aesthetics removes notions of rock jamming and jazz fusion that purists find irritating; the positive side is that it doesn't hinder Clements' playing at all. Bluegrass improvisation, which in this case has been opened up enough to include instruments such as the vibraphone as well the previously mentioned drums, is open enough to accommodate all of Clements' nuances of phrasing and attack. There's also great picking from guitarist Harry Orlove, pedal steel and dobro man Doug Jernigan, mandolinists Andy Statman and Bobby Osborne, and banjoist Jack Hicks.

Vassar Clements - The Bluegrass Session
Year: 1977 (cd 1993, out of print)
Label: Flying Fish Records

1. Reno Shuffle
2. Vasillee II
3. It's Mighty Dark
4. Stompin Grazz
5. Nine Pound Hammer
6. Six More Miles
7. Scuffin
8. White House Blues
9. Swingin Low
10. Rocky Top
11. Silly Millie

with unnecessary drums
mp3 320kbps | no cover | 69mb

thanks IncaRoads!


Unknown said...

Great post hard to find Vassar music Steve

Anonymous said...

what a great album! thank you for posting it.
would you also please repost
larry mcneely live at mccabes?
thanks again.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the mcneely repost!
awesome stuff!

Anonymous said...

dear irate pirate,

i want to start a music blog of my own. do you have any advice on how to stay anonymous? for much of the material i want to post, i would be surprised if there were people out there actively searching for copyright infringement, but you never know.

skip heller said...

harry orlove -- under-sung hero. still plays around los angeles, and beautifully.

The Irate Pirate said...

Jack, if you want to start a music blog anonymously, probably the best thing to do would be to create a new google/gmail account and fill in false information for it, and use that account to make a new blog with blogger. but i've found that there really isn't much danger in this sort of work, since generally the worst that happens is that the blog gets deleted. also, in the comments of a previous post (Mr. Kev's Old Time Tunes post) i linked to a couple articles about how the recording industry is shifting their tactics from trying to sue pirates to trying to reduce pirates' bandwidth (with forewarning).

but if you do start a blog and don't want to be found by people looking for copywrite infringement, the you should configure the settings of your blog to not let google index it (this is also covered in the comments of one of my non-album posts).

hope that helps; looking forward to your blog!

DJ Radu said...

Hi, Irate Pirate,
just to let you know that I've added your blog to my bloglist. I've just given a brief look to it, but it seems very interesting. I'll be back:)
Keep up the good work,

Slackjack said...

Thanks so much for this. So good to be able to add another treasure from my lost library. It would be 25 years since I last heard this album.