Bill Keith, Influential Banjo Player and Session Musician

“Melodic Style” Banjo

In the past few years there have been a series of documentaries about session musicians–20 Feet From Stardom, The Wrecking Crew and Muscle Shoals are a few. These give tribute to  the often-anonymous artists who created the sounds we remember for decades. I first became conscious of session musicians on Maria Muldaur’s solo debut. The back of the album featured photographs of an all-star cast of musicians whose names, and often work, would stick with me to this day…Ry Cooder, David Grisman, Andrew Gold…and Bill Keith.

Bill Keith on the Banjo & Bill Monroe

Keith was a banjo player who “converted” to bluegrass after playing Dixieland jazz. He played for a brief period with Bill Monroe who admired Keith for his knowledge of music.

“Cherokee Shuffle” at Grey Fox 2011

Keith (December 20, 1939-October 23, 2015) is known for his melodic style of banjo playing, known as the “Keith style.” He was seeking a way to play fiddle tunes note for note. He would pave the way for other experimental banjo stylists like Bela Fleck.