Keith, Bill


  • From Brockton, Massachusetts, near Boston. Lived in Woodstock, New York.
  • Popularized a melodic style of playing the banjo which came to be known as “chromatic” or “Keith-style” banjo. His performance of “Sailor’s Hornpipe” recorded by Bill Monroe (1965) while he was with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys is a good example of this style.
  • Inventor of the “Scruggs-Keith tuner”, a device which improved on the original “Scruggs Peg” (designed by Earl Scruggs) allowing banjo players to change the pitch of a string in the middle of a song without having to re-tune their instrument. Keith’s device made it possible to add this feature to a banjo without drilling additional holes in the banjo’s peghead.
  • Learned to play banjo from a Pete Seeger instruction book on a $15 banjo.
  • While at Amherst College, he met Jim Rooney, who was running the college radio station and Manny Greenhill, who later became Doc Watson’s personal manager. Together they organized the Connecticut Valley Folklore Society to promote folk music in New England. That organization played a key role in the folk music revival of the 1960’s.
  • Worked with Red Allen and the Kentuckians, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (1963-65), Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, Muleskinner, the Woodstock Mountain Revue, and other groups.
  • He transcribed many of Earl Scruggs’ banjo tunes into tablature (a form of musical notation which describes finger positions) which later became a best-selling banjo instruction book titled Earl Scruggs and the Five String Banjo.
  • While with the Blue Grass Boys, Bill Monroe would introduce him as “Brad” Keith—because, as Monroe put it, “there’s only one Bill in my band.” (Keith’s middle name is “Bradford.”)
  • Founded the Beacon Banjo Company—which continues to manufacture and distribute the Scruggs-Keith banjo tuner and other parts for banjos.
  • 1976, released Something Auld, Something Newgrass, Something Borrowed, Something Bluegrass album (Rounder).
  • 1984, released Banjoistics album (Rounder).
  • 1993, organized a new band with Jim Rooney and Eric Weissburg (of Dueling Banjos fame) in a band called The New Blue Velvet Band.
  • 1992, released Beating Around The Bush album (Green Linnet).
  • 1993, worked with Richard Greene’s band “The Grass is Greener.”
  • 2002, gave speech inducting the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover (one of his banjo heroes) into the IBMA’s Hall of Fame.
  • 2014, was presented with the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award.
  • 2015, was inducted into the IBMA’s Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Although he was very ill with a form of cancer, he was present in Raleigh, North Carolina for the induction ceremony.
  • 2015, died at the age of 75, less than a month after being inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.