Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Bill Kieth began taking
banjo lessons at a young age, and also learned to play
piano and ukulele. During adolescence, he played in a
few Dixieland bands, but by the late '50s, became
interested in folk music after listening to such
inspirational artists as Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs.
Keith developed his own unique style, which became known as the melodic,
chromatic or "Keith" picking style. This distinct technique was borne
of his desire to play fiddle melodies on his instruments.
Keith unlike Reno and Addock didnt confine his picking to single strings
he also included using multiple strings in his playing. This minor
differance has been a source of debate amongst banjoists and fans
As to who should be credited for what style, purists will argue that single string
melodic banjo is not "Keith" but "Reno" style. Don himself made no such claims nor
has Eddie Adock beefed about not having a "style" named for his work.
Such distinctions are left to the banjo fans to decide for themselves.
Most will not dispute though Bill Keith put melodic banjo on the map
as much as Earl Scruggs put 3 finger picking on the map.
What Is Keith Style Banjo?
Keith style is a melodic/chromatic style banjo playing and is without a doubt one of the most
vicious types to learn. Unlike Scruggs style using
one melody note and 3 fill in notes in roll patterns, every single note is a melody note, and when
you are playing an average speed of 120 beats per minute, that translates
to about 8 notes per second for a banjoist to play. To say the least mapping
out the music is much more difficult than using roll patterns. However
its one of the most beautiful and exciting types of banjo playing that there is.
And its opening doors for music that could never before be created on banjos.
In 1958, Bill
teamed up with Jim Rooney and began playing at
local coffeehouses and on campus. Eventually they hooked up with promoter
Manny Greenhill and together founded the Connecticut Folklore
Society, which sponsored a series of traveling campus concerts throughout
New England. After graduating at Amherst College,
Bill spent a short time in the Air Force Reserves, then afterwards
began learning to make banjos. He formed a new band called the Kentuckians.
He was approached by Earl Scruggs in 63 to help lay out the tab for his
instructional book. Later that year, he and a buddy developed the peg
that allowed tuning changes rapidly and Earl lent his name to the product.
Also in 63 Bill joined Monroes Bluegrass Boys for an 8 month stint where
he introduced his new style of playing to the world.
After he left Monroes band, he has continued to play music in several
bands, worked for Judy Collins, as a staff member of Frets Magazine for a time
and continues today to be a living icon as a banjo pioneer.
Bill plays on a top tension banjo made by Great Lakes a banjo company
no longer in business. Great Lakes was out of Ann Arbor Michigan.
Bills discography record is extensive a link to it is posted on the
MORE ABOUT page.