My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Country Heritage: Clarence and Roland White

During February 2017, we will be reviewing the careers of several country performers bearing the last name ‘White’. Included in this review will be a family band and several excellent male and female singers and songwriters with fairly short discographies.

First, though, we will start with a pair of brothers who are known for their outstanding instrumental prowess. Clarence LeBlanc (June 7, 1944 – July 14, 1973) and his brother Roland LeBlanc (b, April 23, 1938) were born in Maine of French-Canadian parents. The family moved to California in 1954 and at some point before then Anglicized the family name to White.

Roland as the oldest made the first move into music organizing himself and his brothers Eric and Clarence (and sister Joanne) into a family bluegrass band. When the family moved to California the boys won a local talent contest and were hired by a local television station as ‘The Country Boys’. After a two year hiatus in the US Army, Roland rejoined the band in 1961, which was renamed as the Kentucky Colonels. In addition to Clarence on guitar and Roland on mandolin, the band featured Billy Ray Latham on banjo and Roger Bush on bass, with other members being part of the band at various times, most notably fiddler Scott Stoneman. The band became quite popular locally and even managed to score a pair of appearances on the Andy Griffith’s hit television show. The band issued three innovative albums but disbanded in 1965 with the individual members pursuing other interests. Clarence and Roland were in heavy demand as session musicians.

Clarence appeared in combinations with several noted west coast musicians and bands such as Nashville West. Clarence eventually replaced Gram Parsons with the Byrds in 1968 remaining until the group disbanded in 1973.

Roland was of a more traditionalist bent. After the Kentucky Colonels broke up, he spent a few years as one of Bill Monroe’ Bluegrass Boys, then joined Lester Flatts’ Nashville Grass until 1973.

At that point Clarence, Roland and Eric White reunited and formed the New Kentucky Colonels. Unfortunately this was to last but a short time as Roland and Clarence were struck by a drunk driver while loading their equipment into their car after a performance. Roland White suffered a dislocated shoulder, but Clarence was killed in the accident. At the time of his death Clarence had finished four tracks for a planned solo album. Sierra Records released the tracks on a various artists album titled Silver Meteor

After Clarence’s death Roland soldiered onward joining the bluegrass group Country Gazette, remaining there for 13 years. In 1987, he joined the Nashville Bluegrass Band, staying with that group until 2000. After that he formed the Roland White Band, which is still active.

Clarence White was a brilliant guitarist, the equal of Doc Watson or Brian Sutton or any other unbelievable guitarist you’d care to name. Most of his best work can be found on the Kentucky Colonels albums. Clarence White was only twenty nine years old when he died so there isn’t an extensive solo discography of his music. I would suggest the Sierra/Rural Rhythm CD 33 Acoustic Guitar Instrumentals, generally available for around $10.00.

Roland White is still with us and his work, like that of Clarence, can be found on the Kentucky Colonels albums, as well as on Country Gazette and Nashville Bluegrass Band albums. Roland is an exceptional mandolin player. He may not be quite as good on the mandolin as Clarence was on the guitar but he is 99% of the way there and better than all but a very few mandolin players. Frankly, I think everything Roland has played is worth hearing, and he is a pleasant vocalist. My favorite of his solo albums is Trying To Get To You (Sugar Hill, 1994), but I’d happily listen to any of his albums.

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2 responses to “Country Heritage: Clarence and Roland White

  1. Ken February 2, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Here’s a clip of one of their Andy Griffith Show appearances – season one episode 19 “Mayberry On Record” from Feb. 13, 1961

    Here’s that full show

  2. Erik North February 2, 2017 at 10:21 am

    It should also be said that Clarence White also helped aid and abet the rise of country-rock when he started playing electric guitar in the mid-1960s, specifically a 1954-vintage Fender Telecaster; and along the way, he and Gene Parsons (a friend of his, but NOT related to Gram Parsons) invented a device for his guitar that would bend the strings in such a way as to more or less mimic what a steel guitar sounds like. This would be a signature sound of White’s (hence his getting tons of session work, alongside his work with the Byrds) and for many a C&W/rock guitarist from that point on, including Bernie Leadon of the Eagles.

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