In late 1949, when Wise left Monroe, Clements was hired as his replacement in the Bluegrass Boys where he remained for seven years.
After a brief touring stint with Faron Young he joined John Hartford's Dobrolic Plectral Society in 1971 when he met guitarist Norman Blake and Dobro player Tut Taylor, and recorded Aereo-Plain, a widely acclaimed "newgrass" album that helped broaden the bluegrass market and sound. After less than a year he joined Earl Scruggs, who first earned widespread renown for playing the theme to sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.
His 1972 work with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their album Will the Circle Be Unbroken earned him even wider acclaim, and later worked with the Grateful Dead's Wake of the Flood and Jimmy Buffett's A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean.
In 1974, he joined Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Peter Rowan and John Kahn in releasing the bluegrass album, Old and in the Way. That same year he lent his talents to "Highway Call", a solo album by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts.
He was considered by many to be an outstanding fiddle virtuoso and he described his talent saying, "It was God's gift, something born in me. I was too dumb to learn it any other way. I listened to the Grand Ole Opry some. I'd pick it up one note at a time. I was young, with plenty of time and I didn't give up. You'd come home from school, do your lessons and that's it. No other distractions. I don't read music. I play what I hear."
He didn't always earn his living playing music, though. In the mid-1960s he was employed briefly at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he worked on plumbing. He also performed several other blue-collar jobs including work in a Georgia paper mill, as switchman for Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; he even sold insurance and once operated a convenience store while owning a potato chip franchise in Huntsville, Alabama.
In his 50 year career he played with artists ranging from Woody Herman, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to The Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt and Paul McCartney, and earned at least five Grammy nominations and numerous professional accolades. He once recorded with the pop group the Monkees by happenstance, when he stayed behind after an earlier recording session. He also appeared in Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville and Alan Rudolph's 1976 film, Welcome to L.A..
Though he played numerous instruments, Mr. Clements indicated that he chose the fiddle over guitar recalling that, "I picked up a guitar and fiddle and tried them both out. The guitar was pretty easy, but I couldn't get nothing out of the fiddle. So every time I'd see those instruments sitting side by side, I'd grab that fiddle."
Big band and swing music were considerable influences upon his style and musical development, and he said that, "Bands like Glenn Miller, Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Artie Shaw were very popular when I was a kid. I always loved rhythm, so I guess in the back of my mind the swing and jazz subconsciously comes out when I play, because when I was learning I was always trying to emulate the big-band sounds I heard on my fiddle."
Vassar Clements, Tony Rice and the Low Country All-Star Band, Vassar Clements, Tony Rice and the Low Country All-Star Band.(Sound recording review)
Jan 01, 2007; VASSAR CLEMENTS, TONY RICE and the LOW COUNTRY ALL-STAR BAND, Vassar Clements, Tony Rice and the Low Country All-Star Band,...