RIP: Bill Keith, 1939-2015

October 27th, 2015, 2:00 pm by Greg
Bill Keith (photo: Clair Keith)

Bill Keith (photo: Clair Keith)

We are deeply saddened to report that bluegrass/newgrass banjo pioneer Bill Keith died on Friday (October 23) at his Bearsville home. The cause was complications of cancer. Keith was 75.

Early in his musical career, Keith introduced a radical concept to the five-string banjo by seeking to play linear melodies much as the fiddle does while still employing the three-finger technique that Earl Scruggs had pioneered. But where Scruggs’ method had allowed the banjo to mix a vocal melody into a banjo roll, Keith accurately played more complicated fiddle tunes and other melodies note-for-note on the banjo. His technique has become widely known as Keith-style picking.

Back in 1963, Keith was tapped by Bill Monroe to become a member of the Blue Grass Boys, and while his tenure in the band was brief – only eight months – it was also highly influential.

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