Personalities | Clarence White | Innovator of Country Rock | Guitar Heroes

In his short life, California guitarist-mandolinist Clarence White (1944–73) conceived innovations that would inspire country and rock guitarists from both a stylistic and technical perspective long after his death.

He brought bluegrass picking to the forefront of rock, turning acoustic guitar into a solo instrument. He developed a device for electric guitar that let traditional guitarists sound like pedal-steel players. As a member of The Byrds from 1968 to 1973, he brought a new level of musicianship to a band that, with the exception of Roger McGuinn, didn’t even play on their first hit single.

Born into a family of musicians, White played with his brothers in The Country Boys, which became The Kentucky Colonels. His skills led to session work on many mid-1960s pop and rock albums, as well as live gigs alongside Gene Parsons, Gib Gilbeau and former Byrd Gene Clark. White joined Parsons and Gilbeau in the band Nashville West and was invited to record with The Byrds as the band was leaving behind their British Invasion bent for a tighter focus on the marriage of country and rock. White’s innovative string bending and solos on the group’s seminal Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (1968) enlivened tracks like ‘The Christian Life’ and ‘One Hundred Years From Now’. In 1968, he joined the band and toured with them until their final split in 1973. He had continued studio work during his tenure, alternating with Ry Cooder as guitarist on Randy Newman’s 12 Songs (1970) and collaborating with Jackson Browne on his albums.

With fellow Byrd Gene Parsons, White developed a device, the B-Bender, that would allow guitarists to bend strings independently of their fretting hands, giving six-string guitarists the mournful sound of a pedal steel with less work. The sound is perhaps most familiar from Bernie Leadon’s solo on The Eagles’ ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ (1972), but has been used on records by artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin and Donna Summer. White, however, wouldn’t live to see his invention gain its following. He was killed by a drunk driver while loading gear into his car after a performance with The Kentucky Colonels in 1973.

Essential Recordings

The Kentucky Colonels: Appalachian Swing!

The Byrds: Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

The Byrds: Ballad Of Easy Rider

Randy Newman: 12 Songs

Personalities | Jack White | Reviving the Blues | Guitar Heroes


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