Legendary bluegrass fiddler, Kenny Baker, died last month at the age of 85. He was the longest-tenured member of Bill Monroe‘s Bluegrass Boys, joining the group in 1957, and playing with them off-and-on for the next thirty years.
He brought a sensitive and smooth style to bluegrass fiddling, showing his influences from Western swing string bands and continental jazz violinists like Stéphane Grappelli, and influencing generations of country fiddlers to follow.
In addition to his innumerable recordings with the Bluegrass Boys, he recorded many popular albums as a leader, most of which are available on the Alexander Street Press American Song database (Aladin login required off-campus). Be sure to check out some (or all) of the following to see why he’s so revered.
Kenny Baker – A Baker’s Dozen
Like the title says, a dozen traditional and Baker-composed fiddle tunes. The crack band has typical bluegrass instrumentation, and features an 18-year old Sam Bush on mandolin.
“Johnny the Blacksmith“
Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe
Kenny Baker plays Bill Monroe, and Bill Monroe does too. The father of bluegrass was allegedly supposed to sit in on a tune or two for this album of Monroe compositions, but ended up playing on the whole thing. First rate stuff.
Kenny Baker & Bobby Hicks – Darkness on the Delta
Baker teams with fellow Monroe veteran, Bobby Hicks, on this 1980 album, which features some beautiful unison playing.
Kenny Baker & Josh Graves – The Puritan Sessions
This is an unusual one. Baker hardly touches the fiddle on this 1974 record with Flatt & Scruggs dobro player, Josh Graves, instead featuring his considerable finger-picking chops. This is comfortable, front porch music, perfect for these hot late-summer nights.
“Sands of Monterey“