Bill Keith (musician)

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Bill Keith
Bill Keith, banjoist on stage at Cambridge Folk Festival, July 1985.jpg
Bill Keith on stage at the 1985 Cambridge Folk Festival
Background information
Birth name William Bradford Keith
Born (1939-12-20)December 20, 1939
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Died October 23, 2015(2015-10-23) (aged 75)
Woodstock, New York, US
Genres Bluegrass, Country
Occupation(s) Bluegrass artist
Instruments Banjo, steel guitar
Years active 1960s – 2015
Notable instruments
For the journalist, author, and politician, see Bill Keith.

William Bradford "Bill" Keith (December 20, 1939 – October 23, 2015) was a five-string banjoist who made a significant contribution to the stylistic development of the instrument. In the 1960s he introduced a variation on the popular "Scruggs style" of banjo playing (an integral element of bluegrass music) which would soon become known as melodic style, or "Keith style".[1]

Professional career[edit]

Keith was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1961. In 1963 he became a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.[2] Keith's recordings and performances during these nine months with Monroe permanently altered banjo playing, and his style became an important part of the playing styles of many banjoists. After leaving the Bluegrass Boys, he joined "Jim Kweskin Jug Band" playing plectrum banjo. He began playing the steel guitar and soon after 1968, found himself working together with Ian and Sylvia and Jonathan Edwards. In the 1970s Keith recorded for Rounder Records. Over the years he performed with several other musicians, such as Clarence White and David Grisman in Muleskinner, Tony Trischka, Jim Rooney and Jim Collier. Today, Keith style is still regarded as modern or progressive in the context of bluegrass banjo playing. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony in Raleigh, NC on October 1, 2015 and delivered a heartfelt address on that occasion, just three weeks prior to his death. He died of cancer at his home in Woodstock, New York on October 23, 2015.[3]


Keith made a mechanical contribution to the banjo, as well. He designed a specialized type of banjo tuning peg that facilitates changing quickly from one open tuning to another, while playing. Earlier famed banjoist Earl Scruggs had designed a set of cams which were added to the banjo to perform this task. Keith's invention made the extra hardware unnecessary, replacing two of the tuning machines already on the banjo — a more elegant solution. Scruggs himself became a partner in the venture for a while, and the product was known as "Scruggs-Keith Tuners". Known today simply as Keith Tuners, they remain the state of the art, and Bill Keith continued to manufacture and market them personally as the primary product of his own company, the Beacon Banjo Company, until his death. Beacon Banjo tuners continue their proud tradition, now in the hands of his son, Martin.


Solo & contributions[edit]

  • 1962 Bill Keith & Jim Rooney, Bluegrass Livin' on the Mountain, Prestige Folklore FL 14002
  • 1976 Bill Keith, Something Auld, Something Newgrass, Something Borrowed, Something Bluegrass (1976) Rounder - CD 0084, 1998 (feat. Tony Rice, David Grisman)
  • 1978 Bill Keith and Jim Collier, Hexagone 883020
  • 1981 Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, Bela Fleck, Fiddle Tunes for Banjo, Rounder 0124 CD 1999
  • 1984 Bill Keith, Banjoistics Rounder Select OG US - 148
  • 1993 Bill Keith, Beating Around The Bush, Green Linnet.

With Bill Monroe[edit]

  • 1963 Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, Deca Session, 20 & 27 Mars 1963 reed. CD 3/4, tracks 1 to 7 in : Bluegrass 1963 Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, July 1963: Two Days at Newport, And More Bears AMD / ACDAA 25001(CD 2003) (feat. Del McCoury, guitar; Bill Keith, banjo; Billy Baker, fiddle; Ralph Rinzler, Bass, producer)
  • 1963 Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, Live at Mechanic Hall Acoustic Disc, ACD-59 (CD 2004), (recorded 11 November 1963 by David Grisman; feat. Del McCoury, guitar; Bill Keith, banjo; Joe Stuart, fiddle; Bessie Lee Mauldin, Bass)
  • 1991 Bill Monroe, Blue Grass – 1959–1969, Bear Family Records, BCD 15529 (4CD) (feat. Del McCoury, guitar; Bill Keith, banjo; Kenny Baker, fiddle; Bessie Lee Mauldin, bass; Harry Silverstein, producer)




  • Tony Trischka, Pete Wernick, Masters of the 5-String Banjo, Oak Publications, (1988)
  • Neil V. Rosenberg,Charles K. Wolfep The Music of Bill Monroe, University of Illinois Press, 2007, p. 148-151, discography p. 168 sq. Bill Keith is identified as: "Bradford Keith".
  • "Bill Keith" in The Encyclopedia of Country Music, The Ultimate Guide to the Music, ed. by The Country Music Foundation and Paul Kinsbury, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 276.

External links[edit]