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Fiddler Vassar Clements Dies; Bluegrass, Country, Jazz Star

He first tried out for Monroe, the "father of bluegrass," at 14 and was rejected. He was an instant sensation when he joined Monroe in 1949 at age 20.

"His first recording with Bill was 'New Mule Skinner Blues,' " Grisman said. "His solo on that recording is one of the cornerstones of bluegrass fiddle playing."

Mr. Clements worked with Monroe until 1956. He struggled with alcohol in the early 1960s and dropped out of music for several years before moving to Nashville in 1967. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he resumed touring with Faron Young, John Hartford and banjo superstar Earl Scruggs before his breakthrough appearance on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." He made his first record under his own name ("Crossing the Catskills") in 1973 and, the same year, performed with Garcia and Grisman on "Old and In the Way," one of the top-selling bluegrass albums ever.

He appeared in Robert Altman's 1975 film "Nashville" and continued to perform at festivals, concerts and bluegrass clubs until February.

Mr. Clements was proficient on viola, cello, string bass, guitar and banjo, but his primary instrument was the violin. He played a 400-year-old French violin given to him by Hartford, with the head of a bearded man carved on the scroll.

His marriage to Jean Clements ended in divorce. His wife of 34 years, Millie Clements, died in 1998.

Survivors include two children from the first marriage and three from the second, and 12 grandchildren.

In an interview last year with the puremusic.com Web site, Mr. Clements reflected on his long career: "When I think of how long I've been playing, I think, 'Golly bum, I'm getting old.' "


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