Clifton Ervin, 77, Seattle's "Ambassador of the Bones," passed away on September 23. He was born in Tyler, Texas, where as a boy he learned to keep rhythm to the music of local blues players. They taught him how to keep time using objects from sticks to spoons to animal bones. He made his first pair of playing bones with cow bones he found in a neighbor's field. Later he would fashion them from animals' ribs by boiling the meat off and cleaning out the marrow with a coat hanger. He also made "bones" from hardwoods such as teak and rosewood.
Ervin, who always thought of himself as more of an artist than a performer, was a graphic artist for the Air Force during the Korean War. A painter, he had studied fine art at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. He became interested in carving after admiring the beautiful woods at a Weyerhauser sawmill. He began carving bones regularly around 1980, after many people had asked him where they could obtain a set.
He will be missed by his many friends, who will remember him for his genial personality, and his patience and warm encouragement of young people, as well as for the fine bones that he handcrafted and his ability to incorporate them into many kinds of banjo music.