Clarence Horton Greene was born in 1894 and died in 1961. A native of North Carolina, Greene had a long and distinguished musical career playing primarily fiddle and guitar from 1915 – 1955. Clarence Greene recorded for the Columbia, Victor, and Okeh record labels.
According to Greene’s son, Clarence Greene had heard a ragtime type tune titled Chattanooga Blues recorded by the Allen Brothers in 1927 and Clarence was in Atlanta at the time of the Allen recording. The tune actually originated with blues singer Ida Cox, who recorded the song for Paramount in 1923 and Greene’s version is much closer in style to Ida Cox who was accompanied by a piano. Webpage on the Chattanooga Blues.
In 1928, when Frank Buckley Walker auditioned and recorded Appalachian talent for Columbia Records in Johnson City, Tennessee, Clarence Greene, who performed Chattanooga Blues in his repertoire, adapted the Allen Brothers/Ida Cox tune to the lyrics above as “Johnson City Blues.” In the recording for Columbia, Greene performs only with his guitar in a style reminiscent of Delta Blues. In 1938 another North Carolina recording artist, J. E. Mainer and His Mountaineers, recorded a tune for Bluebird Records titled Back to Johnson City that is virtually identical Greene’s arrangement of Johnson City Blues.
The Columbia recordings by Frank Buckley Walker became known as The Johnson City Sessions and in addition to Clarence Greene featured top performers Fiddlin’ Charlie Bowman and Clarence “Tom” Ashley. Ashley’s recording of the Coo Coo Bird (from the 1929 Johnson City Columbia Sessions) is considered a clawhammer banjo classic. Ashley (1895 – 1967) was the last surviving star of the Johnson City Sessions, and was still performing at folk festivals and international tours with his friend Doc Watson shortly before his death.
According to Greene’s protege and travel companion, Walter Davis, Greene and Davis learned blues guitar from the legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, (October 26, 1894 — December 1929) who lived for a time in Johnson City, Tennessee performing as a street musician in the town’s hotel/railroad district. Both Davis and Greene also performed as “street musicians” in cities in both eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
Clarence Greene sings “Johnson City Blues”: