Bluegrass banjo master JD Crowe dies at 84

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JD Crowe, a banjo player who helped define the instrument for generations of bluegrass fans, died Friday, his family announced on Facebook.

“This morning around 3 am, our father, JD Crowe, returned home. Prayers are needed for all during this difficult time, ”family members said in an article on their fan club page.

Testimonies began to flow from legions of musicians who viewed Crowe as an influence or hero, including Billy Strings, one of the current popularizers of bluegrass music.

“I woke up this morning to hear the sad news from JD Crowe. What can I say ? He was an absolute legend, ”Strings wrote. “He will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play bluegrass music. He had the tone, taste and TIMING like no other. The space between the notes he played and the way he unrolled them kept the band going, running on all cylinders like a V8 engine. He was just the best bluegrass banjo player out there, man.

“We lost one of the greatest banjo players of all time to take over the five early this morning,” Bela Flek tweeted. “Goodbye and thank you, JD Crowe.”

The Lexington, Kentucky native’s Christmas Eve death made it a blue Christmas for bluegrass aficionados who remember another genre legend, guitarist Tony Rice, former Crowe’s New South member, passed away on Christmas day a year ago. Crowe’s death also closely follows the passing of another banjo legend, friend and compatriot Sonny Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, who died in October of this year.

A cause of death was not immediately given, but Crowe reportedly suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A week ago, the Bluegrass Today website reported that her son, David, said he was in a rehabilitation center after a brief hospitalization, but was due home for Christmas.

Crowe embarked on a farewell tour in 2012, but continued to perform at shows and festivals until COPD forced him to give up the stage for good in 2019.

Crowe started with Jimmy Martin, joining that legend’s group, the Sunny Mountain Boys, in 1956 when he was 19. In 1961, Crowe formed the Kentucky Mountain Boys, which included Doyle Lawson and Larry Rice.

In 1971 the band’s name changed to JD Crowe & the New South as they became one of the key bands in bluegrass history, especially after recording the 1975 album officially called “The New South” and unofficially known among cognoscenti as “0044”, after its catalog title Rounder Records.

The band at that time included a future who’s who of bluegrass: Rice on guitar, Ricky Skaggs on mandolin, Bobby Sloane on bass, and Jerry Douglas on guitar.

Other well-known musicians who have been a part of the New South over the years include country music legend Keith Whitley, Gene Johnson, Don Rigsby, Richard Bennett, Ron Stewart, Phil Leadbetter and Rickey Wasson.

Awards for Crowe included a Grammy for “Fireball” in the Country Instrumental of the Year category in 1983. He received the Bluegrass Star Award in 2011, an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky in 2012, and an award for set of accomplishments from the Lexington Music Awards in 2016. An annual Kentucky festival, the JD Crowe Bluegrass Festival, is named in his honor.

Legendary roots violinist-guitarist Mark O’Connor wrote on social media that Crowe was “one of the absolute greats of bluegrass, and a truly wonderful mentor to me as a young boy to come.” O’Connor was in Crowe’s group for a few weeks in the mid-1970s when he was 14.

“He would take me and buy me White Castle burgers after our shows with the New South until I couldn’t eat anymore,” O’Connor wrote. “He was a great mentor, and what a great conductor in music… and no better bluegrass banjo player in history other than Earl Scruggs.

Bluegrass group The Grascals wrote in an article, “We lost a real American treasure today. One of the best to ever pick up a five-string banjo and one of the coolest cats ever, his banjo features on some of our favorite bluegrass records. Whether he’s led the Kentucky Mtn Boys and the New South, worked with Jimmy Martin as a teenager, performed with the legendary Bluegrass Album Band and more, his selection has been a part of the soundtrack of all our lives. ”

“The friendship and inspiration he provided us will never be forgotten. As long as there is bluegrass, the spirit and impact of JD Crowe will always live on. Please keep his family, friends and family. fans in your prayers in the days and weeks to come, Mr. James Dee Crowe will be missed.

Tweeted Donna Ulisse, a country singer-songwriter who turned to bluegrass: “The wind makes me moan outside my back door and I can only imagine even the sky is sad to hear of JD’s passing. Crowe this morning. It will be difficult to find a better banjo player here, but I know that Heaven today welcomes this good and faithful servant with open arms. I got to know him a bit and what a great gentleman he was.

Wrote Adam Lee Marcus on Facebook: “The banjo I have been playing since 2004 is a JD Crowe Gibson ‘Blackjack’ model. I didn’t choose him because I wanted to sound like him, but to sound like me on a banjo designed to sound like his. For me, the tone of the Crowe banjo is impeccable. Like many, I was inspired by Earl Scruggs to play the banjo. But when I heard Crowe play, I heard how punchy a banjo could be. Some of the greatest bluegrass ever made had JD Crowe on banjo and Tony Rice on guitar. Impeccable timing, tone and tasteful playing. Heaven is building a hell of a bluegrass group. We will miss you, Crowe! See you up there.

“No one has ever had the groove, the touch, the tone and the timing of this man,” wrote the group Blue Highway. “Prayers for his family and for the entire Bluegrass community. This one really hurts.

John Lawless of Bluegrass Today wrote: “Everyone in bluegrass music loved JD Crowe… His affable, humble and playful personality made him everyone’s friend, and all attempts to shower him with praise for his music have always resulted in postponements and a bit of embarrassment… No one has ever played the bluegrass banjo with more passion, inventiveness or more interesting than him. ”

“Two generations of pickers have studied his game, and even those who take the three-fingered style in new directions, like Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka and Noam Pikelny, will readily recognize Crowe as a major influence and undeniable stylist in his own right. right. If Earl Scruggs was a machine, JD Crowe was a carnival merry-go-round. His playing was fun, light and even frivolous at times, all coming from his own distinct personality. “

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