Credited as writer or co-writer of more than 100 songs, instrumentals, and arrangements, including:

  • “Along the Way”
  • “Border Incident”
  • “Bringing Mary Home”
  • “A Cold Wind A’Blowin’”
  • “Don’t Bother with White Satin”
  • “Hills and Home”
  • “This World’s No Place to Live (But It’s Home)”
  • “Travelin’ Dobro”
  • “Victim to the Tomb”

Early Influences

  • Bill Monroe
  • Flatt & Scruggs
  • Stanley Brothers
  • The Osborne Brothers & Red Allen

Came to Fame With

  • Classic Country Gentlemen, 1958-70.

Performed With

  • David Swan & the Rainbow Mountain Boys, 1957
  • Lucky Chatman’s Ozark Mountain Boys, 1957
  • The Country Gentlemen, 1957-1969
  • Bill Clifton & the Dixie Mountain Boys, late ’50s – early ’60s
  • The Seldom Scene, 1971-1996


  • Prominent vocalist (lead, tenor) and instrumentalist (mandolin, Dobro, guitar) with two of the most popular and influential groups in bluegrass history: the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene.
  • One of the earliest to challenge the accepted way of doing things in bluegrass, broadening its audience appeal and fan base.
  • One of the first suburban and northern-born artists to make a career in bluegrass.
  • From the ’50s through the ’90s, played a leading role in making Washington, DC, the most prominent capitol for bluegrass music.
  • Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 1996.

By the Way

  • Never left the Washington, DC, area as his base of operations.
  • A gifted instrument craftsman, he designed an unusual mandolin known as “The Duck,” which he played onstage until the return of his stolen F-12 Gibson.
  • Found inspiration in entertainers like Johnnie Carson, studying what they did to gain and hold an audience’s attention.
  • His outrageous sense of style was legendary. Duffey never gave up his flat-top buzz-cut hairdo, his bowling shirts, or multicolored body-builder pants.

From the Archives

“He told me that he had heard my music before and that my recording of ‘Mary Dear’ [1957] was one of the reasons he had decided that he wanted to play music. John told me that after he had heard the mandolin, he went to the local music store and looked at the instruments and said: ‘I’ll take that one!’ He bought it, took it home, and just hoped that he could figure out what to do with it.”
Bill Clifton, quoted in Rienk Janssen’s liner notes to “Bill Clifton: Around the World To Poor Valley,” Bear Family Records, 2001.
“We’re not mountain boys. We’re gentlemen.”
Quoted in Richard Harrington, John Duffey obituary, Washington Post, December 11, 1996
“When I first met him in 1958, he wouldn’t talk on stage, he wouldn’t say a word – he couldn’t do the MC work or anything. Charlie [Waller] and I did that the first year or so, but slowly, a word here and a word there came, until we couldn’t control him any more.”
Eddie Adcock, quoted by Jon Weisberger in liner notes to John Duffey: Always in Style, Rounder Records, 2000.