Monday, October 26, 2015
– Bill Keith, a five-string banjo player who helped modernize the instrument, died of cancer on Friday at 75 at his home in Bearsville, N.Y. Keith was known for introducing a variation of the Scruggs style of playing banjo, a melodic style that became known as the Keith Style.
William Bradford Keith was born Dec. 20, 1939 in Boston. He graduated from Amherst College in 1961. Two years later, he was a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. He played with Monroe for nine months, soon joining the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.
Keith recorded a variety of albums, starting with Jim Rooney, his college roommate, on "Bluegrass Livin' on the Mountain" in 1962. The two were regular performs in the Boston area at Club 47. Keith also had several solo discs and recorded "Fiddle Tunes for Banjo" on Rounder with Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck.
He also performed with Clarence White and David Grisman in Muleskinner. During his career, he did studio work with everyone from Richie Havens to the Bee Gees on their "Odessa" album.
The Keith style was an extension of the rolling style of playing popularized by Earl Scruggs. The end result was that the banjo became an instrument where melody was part of its sound.
Keith formed the Beacon Banjo Co. in 1964 with a college friend, Dan Bump. The company sells banjo turners, banjo strings and instructional books.
Keith was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in Raleigh, N.C. on Oct. 1.