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  • Jack Baker

Santa Claus


Needless to say, Bill Monroe will be sadly missed. The monumental legacy of bluegrass songs and instrumentals that Bill Monroe left us will of course go on forever. I remember when Bill visited NYC in the late 1960s. Israel Young, proprietor of the Folklore Center in NYC, Marc Silber and I took Bill on a tour of the Village. We had long conversations about Bill's philosophy of bluegrass music — where he wanted it to go and exactly how it should be played.

Bill was definitely a man with vision and a firm belief in himself and his creation (Bluegrass Stringband Music).

Bill "Brad" Keith joined the Monroe band in 1963 and played in it for approximately nine months. It was Keith's new inventive melodic technique that permitted fiddle tunes to be played almost note for note on the banjo. Bill Keith changed bluegrass banjo playing technique forever. In the Bill Monroe video ("High Lonesome" Shanachie 604) Kenny Baker tells the story of how Bill approached Keith, who Kenny thought would be good for Bill's music. It is quite obvious, to my ear at least, that Bill Keith never played with more drive and crisp timing than when he played with Monroe’s band.

“Brad” Keith recorded with Bill in March of 1963, in two sessions. Keith recorded numerous classic instrumentals — Salt Creek, Devil’s Dream, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Pike County, Shenandoah Breakdown — all with Kenny Baker on fiddle. These are available on vinyl, and on the Bear Family CD set. Keith plays Bluegrass Breakdown and Rawhide on Folkways CD “Live Recordings.”

Here’s Monroe's tune arranged and played by Bill Keith during his stint with Monroe — "Santa Claus". Hope you enjoy it.


Banjo Newsletter, December 1996

Jack R. Baker