Composed

ASCAP’s database credits Vassar Clements with 18 published compositions, including:

  • “Crossing the Catskills”
  • “Fiddle Pack”
  • “Westport Drive”
  • “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”

Early Influences

  • Carroll Clements (cousin)
  • Gerald Clements (cousin)
  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Carroll Clements (cousin)
  • Gerald Clements (cousin)
  • Tommy Dorsey

Came to Fame With

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, 1971

Performed With

  • Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, 1949-1950, 1955, 1961-1962, 1967
  • Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, 1958-1961
  • Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, 1967
  • Faron Young and the Deputies, 1969, 1973
  • Bobby Smith and the Boys From Shiloh, 1969-1970
  • John Hartford/Dobrolic Plectral Society, 1971
  • Earl Scruggs Revue, 1971-1973
  • Old and in the Way, 1973
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 1974
  • Vassar Clements Band, 1974-1986

Led the Way

  • Recognized as one of the seminal instrumentalists in bluegrass music, noted for his bluesy improvisations.
  • Toured and recorded with three of the most influential early bands: Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, and Jimmy Martin.
  • After a career as a country music sideman, was a leading figure in the New Grass movement, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, and his own Vassar Clements Band.
  • Six Grammy nominations and one win (2005) for his participation in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s recording of “Earl’s Breakdown.”
  • Spearheaded a unique genre of music known as “hillbilly jazz.”
  • Inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2018.

By the Way

  • Non-musical jobs included work as a plumber at NASA, a switchman for the Atlantic Coast Railroad, and a franchise owner in a potato chip delivery service.
  • The first fiddle tune he mastered as a youth was “Rubber Dolly.”
  • Also played viola, cello, bass, mandolin, guitar, and tenor banjo.
  • Played and appeared onstage in Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville.
  • The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia nicknamed him “Clamp” because of the tobacco pipe usually clenched between his teeth.

From the Archives

“I’ve always said a fiddle would fit any kind of music. But I’m kind of backwards; it don’t look right on me to try and push anything, so I just sit back and wait for a chance. And when the chance comes along, I take it and prove what I’ve thought all along.”
Quoted by Sylvia Rector (AP) in “Old Musical Barriers Broken,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, February 22, 1974.
“You’re always tryin’ to do somethin’ new and to do that you have to play yourself out on a limb and then try to play your way back into the patter of the other people who are playin’ along with you. If you make it back, you’re okay.”
Quoted by Jack Hurst, from “Vassar Clements Put Down Booze to Fiddle Again,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 1974.
“I still don't read music. To me, it’s all feeling.”
Quoted by Bill Banks in “Renowned Fiddler Still Jumps Categories,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 26, 2002.
close