Country & Bluegrass Star
Doubles the Pleasure with Duets Album
Featuring Pairings with Ira Dean, Collin Raye, Ronnie Bowman & More
By PHIL SWEETLAND
The New York Times
NASHVILLE -- Maybe deuces have always been wild for Clinton Gregory, whose upcoming album of duets with country and Bluegrass stars figures to be one of the joys of early 2016 for country fans and country radio.
After all, the fifth-generation fiddle wizard, guitar and banjo maestro, singer, and songwriter currently has two different singles getting spins and lighting up request lines like Christmas trees at two different radio formats: the hilarious tempo tune “You Can’t Hide High” at country radio, a duet featuring the former Trick Pony star Ira Dean, and the irresistible midtempo Bluegrass number “Where The Sun Never Shines,” a duet pairing with Clinton’s fellow BG icon Ronnie Bowman.
And of course each of those current singles highlights two singers, and are early indicators from an upcoming Gregory album of duets that fans and radio are already eagerly anticipating.
So it seems two is truly lucky for Clinton Gregory, who in a very real sense began performing Bluegrass duets the day he was born. His daddy Willie Gregory was already playing fiddle himself – a family tradition dating back to the 1800s.
In music and in life, Willie became Clinton’s mentor.
“My father was the best friend I ever had. There’s not one single thing he told me that wasn’t exactly like he told me it would be,” Clinton says in a phone conversation from the Music Row office of his music publisher and label head, Jamie Creasy of Melody Roundup Music.
Clinton was born at Martinsville, Va., long a NASCAR track site and a town close to the southern border between Virginia and North Carolina. The Virginia Museum of Natural History is nearby, as are towns with names like Horse Pasture and Baskett Forks.
He was just 12 when he left Virginia for Nashville, where Willie Gregory was by then playing the Grand Ole Opry. Word raced around Music City about the young fiddle phenom, who soon was playing on records by country and Bluegrass stars such as Suzy Bogguss and the McCarters.
A cover of Gov. Jimmie Davis’s “Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine” became Clinton’s first solo single. Gregory’s single “Play, Ruby, Play,” an unusual tempo number with a phase-shifted electric piano written by Tony Brown and Troy Seals, made the Billboard country Top 25 in the spring of 1992, a remarkable achievement for the indie label Step One Records with a limited promotion budget.
Clinton charted 11 Billboard country singles between 1991-95, earning huge praise from some country legends in the process.
“Clinton Gregory is one of the greatest country singers on the planet,” said Marty Stuart.
“Clinton is one of the best young traditional country singers in Nashville right now. Maybe the best ever,” said no less an authority than the Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Cochran, who wrote or co-wrote such country classics as “I Fall To Pieces,” “Make The World Go Away,” and “The Chair.”
A special moment came at the Opry in February 1992, when the father-and-son duo of Clinton and Willie Gregory performed together for the final time. Willie passed a few months later.
By 1996, Clinton was divorced and apart from his two little girls, Haley and Ali. That began a gradual decline.
“When God wants to get your attention,” he recalled in an earlier interview, “He will get it. I lost everything four or five times. I lost my family, home, and car all in one day. It had to happen for me to learn . . . and I learned a lot from a park bench. The experience readied me for the rest of my life.”
Even in his darkest hours – and there were many – Clinton’s lifetime dream to keep American music alive never disappeared. Nor did the admiration of Music Row insiders like Jamie Creasy, whose Melody Roundup artist roster now includes Clinton’s solo projects and the Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band, Gerald Smith, the beloved former “Georgia Quacker” of Hee Haw fame and the co-writer of Lorrie Morgan’s No. 1 “What Part Of No,” plus the fine singer and songwriter Tony Stampley, the son of the multi-platinum Joe Stampley and a fine writer himself who has already penned over a dozen songs recorded by Hank Williams Jr.
The creative minds and lifelong sense for country radio which Jamie and Clinton share didn’t take long to yield concrete results, such as Clinton’s albums Too Much Ain’t Enough and the Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band’s autobiographical record Roots Of My Raising.
The duets project is their latest inspiration. With Larry Beaird’s tasty and seamless production and an A-list of session players, Clinton has already cut duets with Ira Dean (“You Can’t Hide High”); Collin Raye (“Some Real Good People”), and Ronnie Bowman (“Where The Sun Never Shines”).
“You Can’t Hide High” is a lighthearted stoner song, a country waltz featuring unusual lyrics for a country song such as “pure hydroponic,” “they’ll still see the red in your eyes,” and “blue lights and old Barney Fife.”
“Some Real Good People” is a midtempo, country radio-friendly single where Clinton’s soulful baritone trades verses with the Collin Raye wonderful tenor in a pairing country radio fans have likely dreamt of for years. It’s a story song with glistening harmonies in the chorus and bridge.
Bluegrass fans and radio will be delighted with “Where The Sun Never Shines,” a 2/4 song at breakneck Bluegrass speed with a fiddle open and the high, lonesome sound of country harmony – in this case from Ronnie Bowman and Clinton Gregory – giving listeners some of the pure happy sadness Bluegrass does so very well.
Somewhere, we get the feeling that Willie Gregory is listening to every one of these songs and smiling.
“I FIND PEACE AND CONTENTMENT IN GOD, GOOD MUSIC AND MAKING MEMORIES.” - Clinton Gregory