Bill Keith (musician)

: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".

Professional career

Keith was born in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1961. In 1963 he became a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.

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, worked 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, North Carolina on October 1, 2015, and delivered a heartfelt address on that occasion, just three weeks prior to his death from cancer at his home in Woodstock, New York on October 23, 2015, aged 75.


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 and contributions

  • 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

  • 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)


  • 1964 Red Allen, Frank Wakefield and Kentuckians, The Bluegrass, Folkways Records – FA 2408 CD 2004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW40127
  • 1965 Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, Jug Band Music, Vanguard VRS-9163, VSD-79163
  • 1966 Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, See Reverse Side For Title, Vanguard VRS-9234, VSD-79234
  • 1967 Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, Garden of Joy, Reprise 6266
  • 1969 The Bee Gees, Odessa, Polydor Records (UK), Atco Records (US)
  • 1969 Blue Velvet Band, Sweet Moments With The Blue Velvet Band, Warner Bros. Records WS-1802
  • 1972 Mud Acres, Music Among Friends 1972, Rounder 3001
  • 1973 Muleskinner, A Pot pourri of Bluegrass Jam, Warner Bros. records BS 2787 (feat. Peter Rowan, Clarence White, David Grisman)
  • 1973 Muleskinner Live: Original Television Soundtrack, released in 1998, Sierra MSI-11059
  • 1975 Jim Rooney, One day at the Time, Rounder Records, 3008
  • 1975–1976 Bill Keith & Jim Rooney, in Banjo Paris Session vol. 1 Pony/Musigrass; Cezame CEZ 1005 & vol 2 Cezame CEZ 1022
  • 1976 The David Grisman Rounder Record (1976) reed. CD 0069, 1986 (feat. Tony Rice)
  • 1985 Peter Rowan The First Whippoorwill, Sugar Hill, reed. CD 1990 SHCD 3749
  • 1995 Richard Greene, The Grass is Greener, Rebel Records 1995 REB CD 1714