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With the Kentucky Colonels: 1954-1965

Clarence White Discography

Clarence White Bibliography

Clarence White was born June 7, 1944 in Madawaska, Maine. His parents were French-Canadians from New Brunswick; their family name was originally LeBlanc. The father, Eric White, Sr., played fiddle, guitar, banjo and harmonica, and his children, Roland, Eric Jr., Joanne and Clarence took up music at a young age.

The Three Little Country Boys

In 1954, the family followed relatives to Burbank, California, where Eric, Sr. had been promised a job in the Lockheed plant. Shortly after that move, the younger Whites formed their own band, the Three Little Country Boys, with Roland on mandolin, Eric, Jr. on banjo, Clarence on guitar, and Joanne on bass, with vocals by all four. Eric, Sr. occasionally contributed harmonica. The band played country standards, traditional French-Canadian tunes, and popular standards.
 In 1955, Joanne left the group and Eric, Jr. took over on bass. That same year, Roland White, the oldest of the brothers, heard "Pike County Breakdown" by Bill Monroe and quickly became a bluegrass fanatic. Before long, he had imparted his enthusiasm to his younger brothers, and the Three Little Country Boys became a bluegrass band.
 The band's big break came early, when they won a talent contest sponsored by Carl Deacon Moore, a DJ on KXLA in Pasadena under the name "the Squeakin' Deacon." First prize was an appearance on a local television program called Ralph T. Hicks's Country Barndance Jubilee. The White boys made frequent appearances on the show afterward, and played barn dances on weekends.
 By 1957, the Three Little Country Boys had a regular spot on a local radio program, and had attracted the interest of country star, Joe Maphis. At that time Maphis was based in LA, and performed on the TV show Town Hall Party. With his help, the Three Little Country Boys were booked on the popular show several times. Maphis, a talented guitarist with wide-ranging tastes, also turned Clarence White on to the music of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.

The Country Boys

In 1958, banjo player Billy Ray Lathum joined. The group, now neither three nor little, shortened their name to "the Country Boys." The next year, the band cut their first single, the Flatt & Scruggs tune "Head Over Heels in Love with You," backed with "Kentucky Hills." By that year, the folk music boom was in full swing, and like many bluegrass acts at the time, the Country Boys began to play coffeehouses and folk clubs. The group even landed a week-long engagement at the Ash Grove in Hollywood.
 Around the same time, a friend of Eric Jr.'s named LeRoy MacNees met the Whites and was inspired to pick up the guitar after watching a few family jam sessions. In 1960, McNees came aboard as a dobro player, calling himself "LeRoy Mack." That year the group issued its second single, "The Valley Below" backed with "High On A Mountain."
 By 1961, the Country Boys had become well enough known to land several appearances on the Andy Griffith Show. Eventually, four songs by the Country Boys were featured on a tie-in album called Songs, Themes and Laughs from the Andy Griffith Show (Capitol, 1962).
 Guitarist Roger Bush joined the Country Boys on bass in 1961, when Eric decided to settle down with his new bride. The group made a tour of the East Coast. On its return in early 1962, Roland White was drafted. Mandolinist Scott Hambley of the Redwood Canyon Ramblers joined up as a substitute for the departing Roland, but after a few months, he left and the group reverted to a quartet of Clarence, Lathum, Bush and Mack. The group released a third single on Briar, "To Prove My Love For You" backed with "Just Joshing."

The Kentucky Colonels

In the fall of 1962, with Roland still in the Army, the band recorded its first LP, The New Sounds of Bluegrass America (Briar, 1962). Fiddler Gordon Terry sat in for the session. The album was produced by bluegrass pioneers Ralph and Carter Stanley. In order to avoid confusion with Mac Wiseman's backing group, also called the Country Boys, the label insisted that the group choose a new name. And so in late 1962, the Country Boys became the Kentucky Colonels. Fiddler Bobby Slone joined the band to fill out its sound while Roland was away.
 Other changes were also afoot during Roland's absence. Doc Watson, who made his West Coast debut at the Ash Grove in 1962, and Clarence was floored by his playing. Soon the young guitarist began to incorporate elements of Watson's signature style into his own flatpicking technique, including the use of open strings and syncopation. Most importantly, Clarence began to see that even in the context of a bluegrass group, his guitar could be a lead instrument.
 With Roland absent, Clarence began to take more and more leads on his guitar. He also spent many hours practicing and perfecting his new approach. His new style was in place by the time he appeared on New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass (Elektra, 1963), backing banjo players Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman. This album, with the addition of the later track "Dueling Banjos," was reissued as the soundtrack to Deliverance (Warner Bros., 1973) and is easy to find in that form today.
 In the spring of '63, LeRoy Mack bowed out of the group. The Colonels appeared at the opening of the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium that year. Their performance of "Green Corn" was captured on the album Country Music Hootenanny (Capitol, 1963). The LP also features the Colonels backing Johnny Bond on the song "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues."
 In September of that year, Roland rejoined the group after 17 months in the Army, and Slone soon departed. "I could see," said Roland later, "when I got back from the Army, that he had it all together. I thought, 'Gee, well, I need to get to work.'"* Roland learned to play along with Clarence's new style of flatpicking, and the band attracted considerable attention during lengthy residencies at the Ash Grove. The club's owner, Ed Pearl, became the group's manager and secured them a relationship with World Pacific Studios in early 1964.
 The Colonels recorded a dozen other tracks that became the album Appalachian Swing (World Pacific, 1964). In order to cut down on recording costs, all twelve tracks were instrumentals. Both LeRoy Mack and Bobby Slone played on the sessions with the regular foursome. The album, released April 20, is now regarded a seminal work in the second generation of bluegrass music. The album was reissued on CD in its original form on Rounder in 1993. Completists may wish to seek out the earlier British reissue, which appends both sides of their later World Pacific single ("For Lovin' Me" and "The Ballad of Farmer Brown"). The British reissue, on United Artists, is called The Kentucky Colonels featuring Roland and Clarence White.
 World Pacific had enjoyed some success with an album of 12 string guitar by Glen Campbell and others, and the label was planning a series of similar releases. Shortly after recording Swing, Roland and Clarence took part in some sessions behind dobroist Tut Taylor that were released on the album Dobro Country (World Pacific, 1964), credited to Tut Taylor, Roland and Clarence White.
 After the release of the LP, the Colonels embarked on a tour of the East that lasted much of the summer. In tow was Jerry Garcia, who had become an avid fan of the group. Clarence White's guitar technique on the Weissberg and World Pacific records had attracted notice, as did the Colonels' appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, where Clarence and Doc Watson put on a guitar workshop together. The Colonels' performance at Newport was released years later on Long Journey Home (Vanguard, 1991).
 In 1965, the Colonels played frequently at the Ash Grove. They played regularly with fiddler Scotty Stoneman, who would later achieve some success with his family in the group the Stonemans. Some of these shows were captured on The Kentucky Colonels with Scotty Stoneman: Live in L.A. (Sierra, 1978). Other live tracks from '61 to '65 appear on Livin' In the Past (Sierra, 1975); tracks from '64 and '65 appear on On Stage (Rounder, 1984). The Colonels' World Pacific single was released in May, and the band even appeared in a film called The Farmer's Other Daughter (1965), playing behind the film's star, country singer Ernie Ashworth.

The 1997 reissue of Livin' in the Past.
Courtesy Sierra Records.

 Despite their successes, the Colonels were having a harder time making a living playing bluegrass. The folk boom had been staggered by the British Invasion in 1964, but the death blow, ironically, was dealt in mid-1965 with the release of "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan. Soon all the folkies and some of the bluegrass acts were plugging in; according to John Delgatto, the Colonels went electric and hired a drummer in mid-'65 in order to hang onto a gig as a country dance band -- at a bowling alley.* By October of '65, the Colonels dissolved as an ongoing unit after playing their final show on Halloween night.

To enter the electric phase of Clarence White's career, see Clarence White Plugs In: 1965-1968.


"I could see..." Barenberg, Frets at 58.

Bowling alley. Delgatto, Frets at 14.

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Band Members | Clarence White | 1954-1965

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McGuinn | Clark | Crosby | Hillman | Clarke | Kelley | Gram Parsons | White | Gene Parsons | York | Battin | NEXT CHAPTER

1954-1965 | 1965-1968 | Nashville West | 1968-1973 | NEXT PAGE

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