International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame Member Bill Keith Dies
Bill Keith, a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 75. He passed away in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, at his home in Bearsville, N.Y. after battling cancer.
Keith was born in Boston, Mass., on Dec. 20, 1939. He took banjo lessons when he was young and also learned the piano and ukelele. The future musician attended Phillips Exeter Academy and went on to Amherst College, to study French Literature.
During the late 1950s, Keith was listening to Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs and became interested in folk music. He taught himself the artists' styles by using instruction books and eventually began developing his own style, known as the "Keith" picking style. He used the three-finger technique that Scruggs had pioneered while also playing linear melodies and more complicated fiddle parts on the banjo.
In 1958, Keith and fellow Amherst student Jim Rooney began playing locally, and with the assistance of promoter Manny Greenhill, the two founded the Connecticut Folklore Society. In 1963, Scruggs asked Keith to lay out the tablature for Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo, an instructional booklet. Keith also, along with fellow Amherst classmate Dan Bump, developed a type of tuning peg that Scruggs used and which became known as the "Scruggs tuner."
Keith joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys after Monroe heard him playing backstage at the Grand Old Opry in 1963. Impressed, Monroe immediately offered him a place in his band; however, because it would be confusing to have two people named Bill in the band, he was called Brad Keith. After eight months of working with Monroe, Keith left to do session work, played with Jim Kweskin's Jug Band for four years and joined the Blue Velvet Band.
In 1968, Keith began playing the steel guitar and worked with country duo Ian & Sylvia and singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards. Keith recorded for Rounder Records in the 1970s, and over the years, he performed with several other musicians as well. His banjo playing, based on the Circle of Fifths, influenced countless players, including Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Steve Martin and many more.
Keith was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 1. At the time of his death, he was the owner and operator of the Beacon Banjo Company in Woodstock, N.Y.
"Bill’s music will live through you all -- and as Bill wanted, the Beacon Banjo tuners will also continue their proud tradition, now in the hands of his son Martin," his surviving family says in a statement. "On his behalf, we thank you all with all our heart."
The Boot extends our condolences to Keith's loved ones.
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