Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clarence White

Clarence White
Clarence White (born Clarence LeBlanc; June 7, 1944 – July 15, 1973) was a guitar player for Nashville West, The Byrds, Muleskinner, and the Kentucky Colonels. His parents were Acadians from New Brunswick, Canada. The father, Eric LeBlanc, Sr., played fiddle, guitar, banjo and harmonica, and his children, Roland, Eric Jr., Joanne and Clarence, took up music at a young age.

White found employment as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, playing on early records of The Monkees, and performed at night with future Byrd Gene Parsons in the group Nashville West. Along with the International Submarine Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, the band was one of the first to play a seamless blend of country and rock in modern pop music.

White's association with the Byrds began in earnest in 1966, when he contributed his distinctive playing to former member Gene Clark's solo album Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers; he and Gene Parsons briefly joined Clark's touring band shortly thereafter. Striking up an acquaintance with Byrds bassist Chris Hillman (who played mandolin in bluegrass combo The Hillmen before electing to join the rock wave) during the Clark sessions, White contributed twangy lead guitar to two of his songs from the album Younger Than Yesterday: "Time Between" and "The Girl With No Name". Both of the country flavored songs were a bit of a stylistic departure for the group, who until that point had rarely strayed from folk or psychedelic rock.

White was invited back to play on The Byrds' next album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and he also contributed to Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the group's Gram Parsons-led foray into traditional honky-tonk which has become a landmark recording.

After the abrupt departure of Gram Parsons in 1968, with Hillman following not long after, White was finally invited to join the reconstituted Byrds in September 1968, remaining until the group was finally dissolved by Roger McGuinn in 1973. The White-era group (McGuinn, White, Gene Parsons, and bassists John York and Skip Battin), while never held in the same esteem as the original band and often dismissed as being little more than McGuinn and his backing band, would maintain a loyal following into the early 70s and record five albums to somewhat favorable reception. However, while the original group's ability to play live was often questioned, the latter-day Byrds – propelled by the intertwining lead/rhythm guitars of White and McGuinn – were considered to be one of the live powerhouses of the epoch (see Live at the Fillmore - February 1969). Never one to abandon his roots, White was well known for downplaying his onstage virtuosity, maintaining the stern "poker face" composure common amongst bluegrass musicians.

White died on July 15, 1973 after being struck by a drunk driver. The accident occurred shortly after 2 a.m., while he and his brother Roland were loading equipment into their car following a spur-of-the-moment reunion gig of the Colonels. Especially shaken by his death was Gram Parsons, who would lead a singalong of "Farther Along" at the funeral service and conceive his final song before his own death, "In My Hour of Darkness", as a partial tribute to White.

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