Donald Clifton was born and raised in Surry County where he was exposed to traditional music and dance as a young boy. “I was drug to square dances as far back as I can remember,” he says. Donald also listened to the Grand Ole Opry every chance he had. By the time he was eight or nine years old, Donald started playing guitar. “I had the desire to play ever since I was young,” he says. Donald’s aunt played the guitar, and she showed him some chords to help him get started. After that, Donald listened to records and learned to play by ear.
Donald stuck with the guitar for a few years, but he also became interested in playing the bass fiddle. He got a bass from his wife’s uncle and, with some help from a neighbor, worked at it until he learned to play. There were a lot of music jams and dances with numerous guitar players, but there was seldom a bass around. Donald filled the needed niche, and soon he was playing with local bands. The first group he played for was with fiddler Earnest East. “Playing with that group was the most help with my timing,” Donald says. “They were a good old-timey band with great rhythm.”
Donald was always interested in bluegrass music, so he decided to form his own group, The Country Boys, about thirty-five years ago, and the band has been playing ever since. The band has played in most of the regional fiddlers conventions, and they have won the coveted first place in the Galax Fiddlers Convention competition a few times. The band also placed second runner up in the old Union Grove Fiddlers Convention. The band specialized in fiddle tunes and got a lot of their repertoire from Kenny Baker and Lester Flatt. More recent influences have come from the Country Gentlemen. “We don’t try to copy them,” says Donald. “But, we play a lot of their material.”
A number of musicians have played in the group over the years, but a core group has been together for a long time. Johnny Joyce and Donald Clifton have been playing and singing together for more than thirty years; J.A. Midkiff joined the band more than twenty years ago; and Tim Bowman has been playing banjo with the band for about nineteen years. The newest member of the current lineup, Kevin Easter, joined the band about five years ago.
“We just enjoy playing,” says Donald Clifton.
The Country Boys play a lot of bluegrass gospel music, and they perform regularly in churches in the area. They are available for performances at churches, festivals, concerts, and other events.