Clarence Greene grew up in Mitchell County where he was surrounded by traditional mountain music. Clarence’s father, known as “Fiddlin'” Clarence Greene, was an old-time musician who made professional recordings from 1927-1931, including some with Clarence Tom Ashley. Fiddlin’ Clarence made his living playing music for a number of years. “There were all kinds of people who came to the house to hear him play,” remembered Clarence. There was also music on Clarence’s mother’s side of the family.
Clarence’s parents ordered a guitar for him when he was six years old, but he didn’t become seriously interested until he was fourteen or fifteen. “I got to play with dad some and back him up on guitar,” said Clarence. Fiddlin’ Clarence lead a dance band that played for the square dances in Little Switzerland during the summer, a dance that continues to be one of the longest running in the mountains. Fiddlin’ Clarence also started the Toe River Valley Boys, a band that Clarence joined and played with for many years. After Fiddlin’ Clarence passed on, North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient Red Wilson became fiddle player for the group, and Clarence played with Red for years.
Guitar was Clarence’s first instrument, but he also learned to play banjo and mandolin. “I had a unique style of playing five-string banjo with a flat pick,” said Clarence. “I just wanted a different style.” Clarence performed on WTOE radio in Spruce Pine on Saturdays with the Toe River Valley Boys, and the group also played in a number of local and regional festivals.
Eventually, Clarence started putting together his own groups. For one band, he booked a tour of the Caribbean, and they were the first bluegrass band to perform at Guantanamo Bay. Clarence has also edited newspapers in western North Carolina. In 1973, Clarence left the newspaper business and started a music and pawn shop.
Clarence made a number of recordings over the years. He grew up near the Clinchfield Railroad, and one album includes all train songs. He pointed to his father as his main musical influence and the one most helpful in developing his repertoire. When asked what he liked about mountain music, Clarence responded, “Once you do it, you can’t quit. That’s the happiest I am when I’m playing.”
In his last years, Clarence played mandolin, guitar, and fiddle with Clarence Greene and Southbound, a bluegrass band that included Gene Gibson, Rex Annas, and Bob Macchia. Clarence spent the latter part of his life in Caldwell County, teaching music from his home, recording music, and writing for publications such as Bluegrass Unlimited.
Clarence passed away on December 12, 2009.