Bandmate remembers bass player killed in head-on crash

Bennie Clifton, 38, of the Clark Hill Band, dies in Putnam County crash

SAN MATEO, Fla. – A well-loved bass player killed in a head-on crash in Putnam County on Tuesday was remembered Wednesday by those who knew him best.

Bennie Clifton, 38, of San Mateo, was driving his Chevrolet Lumina west on State Road 100 just before 8 a.m., when a Nissan Altima headed east crossed the center line for unknown reasons and hit Clifton head-on at East End Road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Clifton died at the scene.

The driver of the Altima, 22-year-old Jasmine Varnes, of Palatka, was airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville with serious injuries.

Both drivers were wearing seat belts, FHP said. Charges are pending.

Clifton was a bass player with the band Clark Hill. The band's Facebook page changed its profile photo in honor of Clifton and asked others to do the same.

"With a heavy heart I have to make this post ... today we lost the best friend, best man, best bass player in the world in a tragic car accident," the post read. "In great Bennie Clifton fashion we say goodbye with a big smile! Love you Bennie Clifton! See you again one day!!!!!"

Clifton's good friend and bandmate Clark Hill talked to News4Jax on Wednesday about Clifton's life and his love for music.

“He loved playing. That's missing in music nowadays, but it wasn't with Bennie,” Hill said. "We always called him Funky. As a person, he was one of the funniest people you'd ever meet. And he was a funky person, and he loved funk music. He was a Red Hot Chili Peppers guy. But ultimately, his favorite band was Lynyrd Skynyrd, from what I understand.”

Clifton's favorite song was “All I Can Do Is Write About It,” a song Hill said was in tune with Clifton's life and how he lived it.

"He was the greatest, literally,” Hill said. “Everyone says that when someone passes away, you know. It sadly takes away from it, but Bennie was that person that my entire family, everyone on the road, anyone that ever met Bennie would tell you he was the best person they had ever met. He was the person who would give anything and everything."

Hill said Clifton was known for his guitar, and the message on the back, “Hill yea,” a saying coined by the band based on their name.

“The first thing Bennie went and did, he went and put it on his guitar, and he would pull it up backwards, so everyone could read it, and everybody would scream it out with him,” Hill said. “There's many, many pictures of Bennie on stage sharing that with the crowd. I hope that moment lives on for a long time."

Clifton's life might have ended on a small road in Palatka, but Hill wants an encore.

“Our business is in the spotlight. It's in people's faces all the time,” Hill said. “So how can we make sure that Bennie lives on forever?”

Hill said they'll start on the stage, in a spot Hill will save for the man he says helped him so much along the way.