Het is heerlijk om met deze interviews met Bill Clifton in de weer te zijn. Indertijd kreeg ik vier CD’s van Kees Jansen. Hij had daarop de twee grote stukken van het interview (Oude Pekela en Winterswijk) in behapbare delen geknipt. Vervolgens alles ook nog eens uitgetikt… Het leuke voor mij is dat ik nu mag bedenken hoe het er uit moet komen te zien. Daardoor krijg ik de verhalen waar Bill Clifton het over had veel intensiever mee dan ik gedacht had. In dit deel praat Bill Clifton verder over zijn bezoekjes aan A.P. Carter en hoe dat langzamerhand uitmondde in het vormen van een eigen band…
Arrangements and bluegrass music
What kind of arrangements did you make? Did you just call up and say, ‘I’m coming over’ or? Often I didn’t even call up. I mean Gladys and Milan, A.P.’s oldest daughter Gladys was always extremely hospitable to me. Whenever I’d come there she would make up a bed and say, you know, ‘you can stay the night now and I’m gonna fix dinner in a while, or whatever. Or daddy’s expecting you and you know be always wants to see you’. And so forth. So I would just never… quite often I didn’t even call or anything. I just arrived…
But A.P. would still be expecting you. Oh yeah! And he was always there. He stayed there and be slept in the store, most often in those years. I’m talking about the fifties and the early sixties. He had two double beds up at the store and be would sleep in one bed and I would sleep in the other. Or sometimes there would be Johnny Clark and myself and we’d sleep in the other and he’d sleep in one bed. And we’d just go up to Gladys’, which was a short walk from the store, to eat breakfast. And then we would plan the day. And sometimes the day was completely unplanned, we were just wandering about or maybe we’d just sit around the store or sit around the house and talk and not play music. And then other times we would do a radio program or something or we would play some music. We didn’t practice. We would just go in and do it, you know.
Whereby you provided the accompaniment? Yeah, I provided the [guitar] accompaniment. In those days be didn’t play very much. He still had a guitar, Joe has bis original guitar, which was missing for a while because it had been in the Johnny Cash Museum and when they closed the museum the guitar was missing. But it has shown up since then and Joe now has it. And A.P. had, what the family described as palsy’, but it was just a shaking of the hands so much so that it was difficult for him to play an instrument anymore. So I would play the guitar.
Because I understand that he did play guitar, A.P. Yeah, he did play guitar, yeah. Absolutely yeah, and recorded with it on a few songs. He didn’t record many solos. ‘I found you among the roses’ comes to mind. He also did ‘The Cannonball Blues’, one version of it. And right now… ‘Storms are on the ocean’. And those things he would play guitar on. Now he didn’t play lead guitar, he just played chords. When we were doing work together, when we were singing together, we weren’t working, we were just singing together for the radio or whatever there would be, I would just play guitar. I might have taken the lead on some songs but basically I just played guitar, accompaniment, and sang with him. And I would sing tenor to his lead. He had a nice deep voice and it wasn’t very hard for me to sing tenor to a nice deep voice like that. I never was a tenor singer but I could always sing more easily with people who had a lower voice. I could never sing tenor to a Bill Monroe or somebody like that, no way.
So you weren’t really a bluegrass tenor? Never was. And I’ve never considered myself a bluegrass singer. In fact, that’s one of the things that have bothered me over the years. But because of the accompaniment I used, which was all acoustic and included five-string banjo Scruggs style when I first started. If I had started with another banjo player instead of Johnny Clark, who couldn’t play old-time banjo, he could only play Scruggs style, if I had started with another banjo player, somebody like Stringbean for example, or somebody who… well. Don Stover who I… I could have done it, you know, and people wouldn’t have called me a bluegrass band probably. But somehow, because of the sound I got with Johnny Clark’s banjo, and the arrangements I did and everything I became part of what was called bluegrass.
I tried to break the shackles a few times by including old-time banjo and including dobro, back before Uncle Josh joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and including sounds that were not part of what people called bluegrass. In fact, even when I first started nobody was playing lead guitar. Bill Monroe didn’t want anybody to play lead guitar. He just wanted rhythm. And so. when I started taking guitar breaks on things like ‘Old pal of yesterday’ and ‘Blue Ridge Mountain blues’ or whatever that was a no-no in bluegrass. Now they do it all the time. But that was something that was not part of bluegrass so it didn’t occur to me that I was gonna be called a bluegrass singer, ever. But it happened.