It was with great sorrow that we all learned of J. D. Crowe’s passing on December 24th after two months of severely declining health. Next to Earl Scruggs, J. D. is no doubt the most influential bluegrass banjo player of all time and, through his recorded legacy, he will probably remain that way for decades to come.
I have known J. D. since the late 1970s and was lucky to have him as a mentor and as a friend. I have hosted workshops and banjo camps with him, shared a stage with him by my side, and experienced an incredible day in his Lexington, Kentucky area living room back in the 1990s, editing the AcuTab book The Banjo of J. D. Crowe, getting every left- and right-hand detail correct. As I wrote in the forward to that book:
It is safe to say that we would probably not enjoy the music of such modern artists as Alison Krauss and the Lonesome River Band in quite the same way if there had never been a J. D. Crowe and the New South to establish the standard by which all others have been subsequently measured…When J. D. talks about what makes good banjo playing, he talks a lot about listening, feeling, and soul. As he poured out one astounding solo after the next on that afternoon, I quickly realized that this is what music should be all about: combining a superb command of technique with one’s own feeling to make music that is perfectly suited for the present moment.
J. D. and I were planning on doing a workshop series together for Peghead Nation that was to begin in January 2022 with recording sessions at the University of Kentucky’s Oral History Project studio. This would have been the first extensive video documentation of his banjo style and, in our conversations through September and October, he was still hopeful that we could do this project despite his declining health. I told him not to worry for now about our project but to focus all of his energies on getting better. He closed our last conversation in early November by saying “I want to do this and you’re the best person to do it with and I’m hoping to feel better soon.”
To honor the memory of J. D. Crowe and his incredible banjo playing, I have asked Peghead Nation to make this lesson from my Bluegrass Banjo course available to all. I hope you enjoy exploring his path-breaking second solo to Flatt & Scruggs standard “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” with all of the right- and left-hand detail provided in the accompanying tab. I have six other Crowe transcriptions available in the Bluegrass Banjo course and we’ll soon take a look at another J. D. transcription of “Big Spike Hammer,” from the Bluegrass Album Band recordings.
There will never be another player or friend like J. D. Crowe. Let’s honor his legacy by learning his approach – which is much more than just a collection of licks in tab – and let’s keep his style of bluegrass banjo playing alive for future generations of banjo players to learn from and to cherish.
All the best,
Alto, New Mexico
January 5, 2022
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