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mando_dan
Nov-15-2010, 9:18pm
I've recently discovered that a lot of my favorite fiddle tunes were either written or performed by Mr. Baker. Monroe was right, he is the best fiddler in bluegrass although I must admit that I love Vassar's totally different style equally as well. Does anyone know if Mr. Baker is still performing? He must be quite an old man now. Likewise, if anyone knows his address I'd love to send him a postcard. Thanks!

Ivan Kelsall
Nov-16-2010, 3:50am
Kenny Baker is 84 years of age now & i believe still performs on the odd occassion. Do a web search & you'll get lots of info.. I totally agree with your comments re.this gentleman,possibly the very finest Fiddle player that was ever with Bill Monroe,
Ivan
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Baker_(musician)

Ivan Kelsall
Nov-16-2010, 7:58am
PS - I forgot to add MY all time favourite Monroe Fiddle player & i believe as influential as Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks,
Ivan

Psyberbilly
Nov-16-2010, 9:03am
PS - I forgot to add MY all time favourite Monroe Fiddle player & i believe as influential as Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks,
Ivan

Amen to that ! It would be tough to choose between those two. If the choice was merely on who I would rather listen to, and I could pick only ones , I would probably go with Bobby Hicks , but that's just my individual taste . I think his style contrasted with Bill's more than Kenny's . At least in my perception , Kenny's approach to fiddle more closely mirrored Big Mon's own approach to the mandolin . As an influence , oh my gosh, what would a bluegrass repertoire be without all of the great tunes written by Kenny ? I can't even imagine it ......

Pete Martin
Nov-16-2010, 9:08am
And most of those tunes sit on the mandolin quite well. Learn a bunch of them.

farmerjones
Nov-16-2010, 9:20am
Cleanest, best damb fiddle player they ever was, Kenny Baker.

sunburst
Nov-16-2010, 10:59am
When I found out the respect and admiration fiddlers have for Kenny Baker and his music I started paying attention, and yep, Kenny Baker is 'the man' on Bluegrass fiddle, and he can also do other types of music well too.

Glassweb
Nov-16-2010, 11:09am
Baker and Wise... My two faves right there...

Fiddler3
Nov-16-2010, 11:31am
Check out "Darkness on the Delta" Kenny Baker & Bobby Hicks, wow! i think all were written by Kenny.

AlanN
Nov-16-2010, 12:17pm
A great KB record is called (I think) Farmyard Swing. WFDU in Teaneck, NJ used to have a guy Dave Gross host a Saturday morning 3 hour show, and Dave would always open with the same track from that record, in Bb. Had a terrific mandolin solo on it, sounded like Bob Osborne. I so tried to cop those licks.

MnRoss
Nov-16-2010, 1:06pm
Kenny told me about 12 years ago that he worked out everything he plays on mandolin 1st. Told me he had a nice old Gibson A model that he played and loved.

swampstomper
Nov-16-2010, 2:47pm
That Bb tune must be Daley's Reel. And yes, you have a good ear, that's Bobby Osborne. 1979 on County Records. Dailey's Reel is also on the Master Fiddler compilation.

Kenny plays an excellent eastern Kentucky style fingerpicked guitar, he had some great LPs with Josh Graves on the Puritan label, reissued and available from County Sales (http://www.countysales.com/products.php?product=KENNY-BAKER-%26-JOSH-GRAVES-'The-Puritan-Sessions'). As Dave Freeman writes "He plays with amazing dexterity,taste & subtlety".

djweiss
Nov-16-2010, 5:20pm
I've been playing many of the cuts from "Spider Bit the Baby" on my radio show...great album! Really tasteful and clean mandolin parts on most of the tunes, too.

Jmoss
Nov-16-2010, 7:05pm
Does anyone know if Mr. Baker is still performing? He must be quite an old man now. Likewise, if anyone knows his address I'd love to send him a postcard.

To get Kenny's post office box address visit my website at the link below.
http://www.mossware.com/audiolist.html

At that page scroll down to where it says:
Grey Eagle (Classic Bluegrass) mp3

This is where I posted my field recording of the first time Kenny and
Bob Black ever played together. At the time in 1973 the style of
note for not fiddle tune picking on the banjo was very limited.
Bob Black was a real innovator and you can hear that in the response
of those watching that 4:00 am jam.

I don't know that I ever saw Kenny working out a tune on the mandolin.
I did play that A model mandolin at his house. I remember splitting strings
on it. It was odd because at that time in the late 1970s he said he had
never heard of splitting strings. I told him that his boss had been doing it
for years. That was really unexpected. He was so serious too. I still have
a hard time believing it. He had played electric mandolin tenor to the electric guitar
in his country swing days.

In the 1970s and early 1980s Kenny would let me come stay with him
each winter for 2 weeks where he would spend from 8 am to 10 pm
teaching me his style of fiddling. He never charged me a thing and
in fact refused any payment. He would cook for me too! It was a
wonderful time.

I remember that first morning at his farm. I almost had a heart attack.
From about a foot and a half away he looked right at me and said,
"Now there was a boy come here once asking me to teach him the Georgia Shuffle.
Now I am here to tell you, There will be no Georgia Shuffles around this house!
I expect that you came to me to learn my style of playing, not someone else's.
Now is that going to be a problem?". I immediately responded, "You Bet! I'm with you!
I hate the Georgia Shuffle! I am here to learn your arm and style".
Of course my blood had drained from my face and I am sure my breathing stopped for
a moment, but after that we were on our way. I mean, I was just a kid in my 20's.
There is so much I learned from Baker that it is impossible to document.

I think Kenny Baker was the best Bluegrass fiddler ever, to my way of thinking.
He told me that his influences where Benny Martin, Chubby Wise, Howdy Forester
and this old time swing player whose name I forgot right now. Kenny also said
that he would get ideas from anyone. A player might not be the best, but
a good idea is a good idea. This topic came up when I was learning his version
of Paddy on the Turnpike. I remember wanting him to play this break that he
took at Bean Blossom when he was backing up James Monroe. Baker couldn't
remember what break that was. So, with my recorder running he kept playing
break after break, that he knew to that tune.

At about version 30 he hit on the one I was looking for. I thought to myself,
should I tell him? Heck we have 30 versions already, why not go for 40?
So I didn't tell him. He finally gave up somewhere around 38 or so. I have this
all on tape. He also got pissed and told people for a long time that I just couldn't
be satisfied. :-) Many years later I told him that story. I don't remember him
thinking that this was funny... :-)

When we were recording my Tanyards album back to back with his Highlights album
I did see him work out a tune on the banjo. He had seen this animation in a
theater between shows somewhere. This bear was playing this tune on the banjo.
He remembered that and taught it to Bob. Bob opens that tune with that exact
measure on the Highlights album. That is something you should study, Kenny built
that entire tune based on that little intro to the song. You can see something
in how he thought when creating tunes by studying this.

That was one thing with Kenny, he had a memory. I mean, he would remember stuff
like no one I had ever known. Jesse said he was like a computer.

My one comment on Farmyard Swing is that it was not mixed well. Kenny gave me
the rough mix tape and it sounds great. On the album the fiddle suffers from
what is known as 'Masking'. This is where somewhere in the multi-track mix there
is another instrument playing a near frequency. This causes your ear to pick
one source over the other and mask out the competing source. So, if you had a
fiddle at 183hz and the guitar playing 180hz your ear-brain function may decide
to mask out the fiddle completely for that moment in time.
This is called Psychoacoustics. Google the term Psychoacoustics sometime.
There is a history behind this mix. It is not pretty.
I have both the rough mixes and the LP and it is really apparent. I offered to
remix the album for County for free, but by then in the 1998 the sales on that
album was not there for a repressing. It is still a great album. It just could have
been better but for the choice made in the mixing person.

I not only learned fiddle from Kenny Baker, but a way of life. My time with Baker
at his farm was a class in how to live a balanced life as a musician.
Both Kenny and Monroe taught me how to utilize your environment in your music.

Jim Moss

Jmoss
Nov-17-2010, 8:54am
Here is the photo I used on the Tanyards CD.
This was the view from Baker's front porch in 1978.
I understand it doesn't look anything like this these days.
I heard that it has all been developed.
http://www.mossware.com/BakersFrontPorch007ss1978.jpg
Outside was snowing. Inside there was a warm fire, coffee and lots of music.

Jim Moss

AlanN
Nov-17-2010, 9:24am
Someone mentioned Baker's tunes are good on the mandolin. So true. Tunes like Johnny The Blacksmith are perfect - for the strict melody and allow for a little take off. Niles included a neat Baker tune called Sushi in one of the MD issues. Anyone know what record that is on? It's in A, like a lot of Baker numbers.

sunburst
Nov-17-2010, 9:41am
I've admitted it before on here; I play banjo.
Some of Kenny Baker's fiddle tunes are my favorite tunes to play on the banjo too.

mando_dan
Nov-17-2010, 1:56pm
Jim, thanks for the fantastic posts! You're description of time spent with Mr. Baker is quite extraordinary- he's clearly a very generous gentleman in the truest sense of the word. I think I'd like to hear some of the work you two did together (expect a PM or email) and I'm inspired to work up some more Baker tunes.

Are there any plans to release more of his back catalog? While I understand that pressing and printing a new batch of CDs may not be in the works, the songs could be distributed as MP3 or lossless downloads or even perhaps print-on-demand CDRs that I'm starting to see. It's a shame that these tunes are so hard to come by.

Dan Johnson
Nov-17-2010, 5:44pm
thanks for sharing that Jim... enjoying that mp3...

pglasse
Nov-17-2010, 6:23pm
Jim,

Thanks so much for your amazing post. I'm thankful that you took advantage of that wonderful opportunity to learn from one of the great masters.



He told me that his influences where Benny Martin, Chubby Wise, Howdy Forester
and this old time swing player whose name I forgot right now.

Was this latter player Marion Sumner? http://www.wsgs.com/marion.htm

Years ago, the night that the Nashville Network did its debut, they did live simulcasts from a few select cities, including Austin, where I live. Emmylou Harris and Bill Monroe were the featured artists that night, broadcasting live from the Austin City Limits studio.

Doc Hamilton, a talented music friend of mine worked as a technician in that building. When he spotted me at the taping he pulled me aside and said "Hey Paul, want to pick with Kenny Baker later?" So, after the taping I went home to get my mandolin and hustled over to the Driskill Hotel, where in an upstairs room, Doc and Kenny were holding forth playing twin fiddles. (Doc knew the harmony parts to much of Kenny's repertoire.) Ex-Monroe banjoist Bill Holden was there but not picking. Guitarist Wayne Lewis joined us later but for most of the evening, on rhythm mandolin, I backed up the two fiddles, running through the repertoire of Monroe and Baker classics. Though I've seen him perform many times, that's the extent of my personal experience with Mr. Baker. He's one of my music heroes though and certainly one of the most important musicians in the history of bluegrass.

Jim, I envy your time with him.

Andy Alexander
Nov-17-2010, 7:22pm
Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe is an album that every bg fiddler and mandolin player should study.

Jmoss
Nov-17-2010, 7:44pm
That's it Marion Sumner. Then there was Grappelli too. I was talking about how much I had learned about playing fiddle in Bluegrass from Benny Goodman. It was then that Kenny told me that he had listened a lot to Glenn Miller's Trumpet player. I remember him telling me, "I learned a lot from Glenn Miller's Orchestra." I said, your kidding, Glenn Miller? "Naaoooow wait a minute, Miller had a horn player with him... He was red hot! Now I am here to tell you, that boy just kept spitting them licks out. Oh yeah, I learned a lot from that boy.".

Jim Moss

Randy Smith
Nov-17-2010, 8:38pm
Jim Moss, thanks for the posts. I've loved (and played) your "Baker's Boarding House" for quite awhile. When did that one come about?
***
Love Baker's "Grassy Fiddle Blues," both the record and tune. (Wish County would rerelease that one.) His "Katy Hill" is what's left in fiddling when everything else is taken out.

mandopops
Nov-17-2010, 10:45pm
I love Kenny's playing on "Bobby & his Mandolin" (winner of the worst title contest)(I have the LP which I dubbed to CD for myself). I really like Bobby on it as well.I guess Bobby's playing on this album is in the "Texas Fiddle" Style? Those more in the know can correct me. Great pairing. It's the only Bobby Osborne I have and I really dig it.

"Bobby & his Mandolin" & "..Plays Bill Monroe" sold me on Mr. Baker. Rich tone, flowing ideas, relaxed & confident.

Jmoss
Nov-18-2010, 2:20am
[QUOTE=Randy Smith;859144]Jim Moss, thanks for the posts. I've loved (and played) your "Baker's Boarding House" for quite awhile. When did that one come about?
---
Well, that is Baker telling stories. The first part is Baker telling these stories in his way and the second part came to me as I watched how he would work around the farm. From his living room where I was working on what he was teaching me that morning. I could see him working out of the living room window. He would do something with the horses which was across his driveway but still close to the house, then he would head over a hill for bit, then come back. You can hear him doing that in the second part of the tune.

I mean, in the first part I can see him standing up and saying "Well, I will tell you what!" to his farmer friends who might be visiting when I was there. That was how Baker would start a big story a lot of times, he would stand up and look over the top of your head and say "Well, I will tell you what!". Then he would go on with the story. Well, you know, that look over the top of your head, through you off. Here is this story going by and at the same time you are wondering what he is looking at. He would hold the words "tell" and "you" a bit longer than "I will" or "what". :-) ha ha ha. Baker is a great story teller. Baker would tell me stories that really pushed the envelope of believability. If course, I believed them. That only fueled the fire for more.

When Bobby would come over he would try the same thing, but he was not as good at it. They knew I was from a city and a California city at that. Bobby did have some great stories though. When Jesse would come over he was all business, nice, but not a story teller. One year Jesse and Baker had raised some cattle and had one butchered and the others they took to the auction. That was something, my first visit to a livestock auction. Bobby went with us to that.

I am not saying that the melody follows "Well, I will tell you what!" like Frank Wakefield's Catnip follows Ten Little Indians. My tune is more like impressionism.
I can actually see Baker standing up and telling stories in the first part of my tune.
That image is in my mind when I play that tune. Then it switches to Baker walking over the rolling hill to a distant part of the farm only to return over the horizon with some farm tool in his hand and doing some work. Baker had pigs, horses, cattle, dogs, just to name a few.

Another album that has great baker fiddling on it is Red and Fred County 721. There you have Baker doing some of his classic backup.

Jim Moss

Tbone
Nov-19-2010, 2:38pm
Kenny does some really bad ass tunes in Gm. First Day in Town? Crazy tune. Bluegrass in the Backwoods is great too, although I think it's in Dm.

Someone should put together a tunebook of Baker tunes.

AlanN
Nov-19-2010, 2:42pm
Didn't Sam Bush pick a tune The Other Side Of Baker? Yes indeedy, I believe he did.

Jmoss
Nov-19-2010, 3:10pm
Sam Bush plays mandolin on Kenny Baker's album Frost on the Pumpkin.

Baker played tunes in their original keys mostly, which were all over the place.
That was the thing about Baker, he knew a lot of tunes from listening to his
father who was a fiddler. He told me that his father once told him that "he would never
make a fiddler". This was when he was learning guitar as a kid. Baker said that he
didn't start playing with the fiddle until he was 20. I remember this because
that was about when I started, which is kind of late.

Baker told me that it might be better to stay away from open strings as they
didn't sound as good as closed or fingered strings, but that I had to know how
to play closed (fingered) strings correctly with tone first.

Baker would often use 3 or so notes to make the sound of a single note.
That was very important in my studies when I got to see that up close.
Who would have though? One note or notes (or position or harmonic) for the front edge
another for the middle and another for the end of what would sound like a single note,
but with the sound as big as a house. This was during my first stay with him and
it was where I really started paying attention. I mean, who would have thought?

Jim Moss

Mike Bunting
Nov-19-2010, 3:20pm
Someone should put together a tunebook of Baker tunes.
Stacey Phillips has a download of Kenny Baker and Bobby and others of the solos they played on Recordings of Monroe fiddle tunes.
No KB originals but interesting just the same.
http://www.stacyphillips.com/downloads.html

Jmoss
Nov-20-2010, 7:06am
Speaking of the 1973 Baker - Black jam, here is a photo from
a local paper of a daytime jam. This is exactly where my recording
was made. Same folks standing around too, just that this is a daytime photo.

http://www.rentalfilm.com/MonroeChristmas/BeanBlossom73_PevaCampsm.jpg
-

You might want to listen to this too.
http://www.candlewater.com/MonroeChristmas2/BillMonroeChristmasAtPevas.mp3

In 1997 Jim Peva made available to me his collection of reel to reel tapes he had made
over the years, of Bluegrass around Bean Blossom. As I had done with over 1500 hours of live Bluegrass shows in the past, I proceeded to get these reel to reel tapes to a digital format at the same time as I logged the contents of each tape. One recording stood out in the collection as very special. This short section of tape was made during one of the times that Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys came to Jim Peva's house for a dinner. It was after the dinner on December 14, 1968 that Bill Monroe made this gift for Jim Peva. We all can be thankful for Jim Peva's foresight in having a recorder available and recording the following songs:

1) Christmas Time's A-Comin

2) A Beautiful Life

3) Big Sandy River

This short segment of tape cuts across time to bring us to an Indiana Christmas in 1968. We have Jim Peva to thank both for making the recordings and for making them available for us to hear. We are also be thankful to the members of the 1968 Bluegrass Boys: Bill Monroe, Roland White, Kenny Baker and Birch Monroe who appear on this tape, for the musical gift to Jim Peva's family making this recording.
Photos and interview here:
http://www.rentalfilm.com/MonroeChristmas/
Jim Moss

maj34
Nov-20-2010, 8:27am
If you want to read more about the Bean Blossom jam mentioned above and the subsequent recording session for Kenny Baker's "Dry and Dusty" LP, pick up a copy of Bob Black's great book "Come Hither to Go Yonder." Bob discusses that and much more about Baker in that great book.

Jmoss
Nov-20-2010, 11:23pm
Yeah...
A book by Bob Black...
I have to say that I was surprised when I heard about that.
I mean, my experience with Bob is that he doesn't really talk much.
In fact, all I could get out of him were the two interviews I have on
my web page here, and it wasn't easy I am here to tell you.

Compare that to Jimmy Martin where it was the just the opposite. It was more
a task of guiding the interview than actually conducting it. With Jimmy Martin you
had him on the phone or in person and he was going to tell you what he thought.
You just had to hope that there'd be no causalities in the process. :-)

http://www.candlewater.com/interviews/

In talking with Bob Black, it is generally, " oh..?" or "uh huh".
Didn't he have a co-writer on that? If that was the case the co-writer must
have put a shocker collar on Bob so that each time there was dead air Bob
would get a jolt. Either that or they were drinking A LOT of coffee. :-)
I think it is great that the book is out there. It is great to hear the history
behind the music we all love.

Jim Moss

poymando
Nov-21-2010, 12:10pm
Yeah...
A book by Bob Black...
I have to say that I was surprised when I heard about that.
I mean, my experience with Bob is that he doesn't really talk much.
In fact, all I could get out of him were the two interviews I have on
my web page here, and it wasn't easy I am here to tell you.


http://www.candlewater.com/interviews/

In talking with Bob Black, it is generally, " oh..?" or "uh huh".
Didn't he have a co-writer on that? If that was the case the co-writer must
have put a shocker collar on Bob so that each time there was dead air Bob
would get a jolt. Either that or they were drinking A LOT of coffee. :-)
I think it is great that the book is out there. It is great to hear the history
behind the music we all love.

Jim Moss

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Randy Smith
Nov-22-2010, 8:02pm
Al Murphy, playing guitar for Baker in the photo above, is himself a fine fiddler. Fiddler Al, his wife Aleta on bass, and Bob Black stil play some in Iowa City, IA and around that area. In past years they were Baker's backup band whenever he appeared in Iowa, Missouri, or parts of Illinois, and the trio also performed with Baker when he was honored by the IBMA in the mid 1990s.

Jmoss
Nov-24-2010, 4:13am
This doesn't have Kenny on it, but it was recorded near Bean Blossom 1957.
This was recorded by Marvin Hedrick at his house when two Bluegrass Boys,
Joe Stuart and Joe Meadows stopped by. Marvin Hedrick was the sound man
at Bean Blossom in the 1950s and later.

http://www.mossware.com/hourglass.gif
http://www.mossware.com/music0.html

Jim Moss

Jmoss
Dec-05-2010, 9:28pm
Take a look at this video... It is not Kenny Baker.
Now here we have a real fiddler!
This is an eye opener.
http://www.redhotjazz.com/movies/kj/kjwilliehall.wmv

I thought this might be Joe Venuti with makeup on, but it turns out to be Wilber Hall here called Willie Hall. This guy is a scream.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilbur_Hall_(musician)
Jim Moss