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Billy Baker
Born:  July 5, 1936
WBMD Baltimore, MD
WCYB Bristol, TN
WNVA Norton, VA

About The Artist

Billy Baker was a noted fiddler who worked with several bluegrass bands as well as turning out two and-one half instrumental albums and singles. A cousin of the better-known Bill Monroe long-time fiddler Kenny Baker, Billy moved from Pound, Virginia and relocated to the Washington-Baltimore area, working with such figures as Del McCoury, Bill Monroe, and Carl Story. He eventually retired back to Norton where he taught fiddle and worked some with young traditionalists as Kody Norris.

Born near Pound, close to the Kentucky state line, Billy's parents had some musical skills and passed them on to their sons at an early age. Initially on banjo by four and fiddle by six, he was soon playing at community events like pie suppers with his father. By age twelve, he was playing fiddle on a Norton radio station with the Cooke Brothers, a band whose members included Hubert Cooke who would eventually lead a Southern Gospel group to wide fame and Jack Cooke who would work with both Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, and more than two decades as bass player with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. After a time, Billy moved to Bristol and the Farm and Fun Time where he worked in a band with Porter Church.

By the time Baker was in his late teens, he had moved to Manassas, Virginia where he became a close friend of Smiley Hobbs, a policeman and noted banjo picker. He also reunited musically with Jack Cooke and they became members of Earl Taylor's Stony Mountain Boys who worked clubs and had a radio program at WBMD Baltimore. After this stint terminated, Billy worked with many groups in the area that had floating personnel-wherever a fiddler was needed. Generally, he also worked a day job to support his "bluegrass habit."

Billy worked numerous recording sessions in the early days of Rebel Records. When their legendary four LP set 70 Song Bluegrass Collection came out it contained seven fiddle tunes by Baker and nine by the Shady Valley Boys, the area band with which he was most identified.

Another four of his fiddle tunes were released on singles and still others were half of an LP on Rebel's subsidiary label, Zap. He also appeared on Rebel recordings by Buzz Busby, Bill Carroll, Pete Pike, Red Allen and a few Christmas songs by the Country Gentlemen.

As time passed Del McCoury, became the musician most identified with Baker in the Shady Valley Boys. Together in 1963, they left Washington to join Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. While Del did a few studio recordings with the band, Billy made none but later fiddled on Some live shows that were released on Bear Family Records. Such scholars as Neil Rosen- Berg and Charles Wolfe showcased some of Monroe's best stage bands.

In February 1964, both Billy and Del left the Blue Grass Boys for California to join the Golden State Boys. However, they ended up forming a West Coast version of the Shady Valley Boys. Learning the hard way that California was hardly the "bluegrass gold mine" of some rumor mills, they were back in the D. C. area by June 1964 and picked up where they left off the year before.

McCoury was becoming more popular and formed the Dixie Pals. Baker fiddled on his initial album, Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass which became one of the classic bluegrass albums of the sixties. Many fans (including me) still consider it Del's best including those cut during his later success on the Opry and in Nashville. Baker continued to work with Del's band off and on for the next several years. He also worked some and recorded with Al Jones and the Spruce Mountain Boys.

In the late 1970's, Billy Baker returned to his old home territory eventually settling in Norton. He worked for a time with a band called the Bluegrass Kinsmen and cut an album with them on Old Homestead. This resulted in his also doing two albums Fiddle Classics (OH 90100 and OH 90103) for that Michigan-based label.

However, he was perhaps best known in this period as fiddler with Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers with whom he played for several years. He recorded two albums with the Story group and they backed him on another fiddle album Wise County Special (Maggard 5902). After Story's passing in 1995, Billy considered himself semi-retired.

Semi-retired, but also semi-active, Billy played dances at the Carter Family Fold near Hiltons, worked some shows and recorded an album with the Bristol-based band Tennessee Skyline. After that, he fiddled on an album compiled from live shows with the young traditional blue- grass picker and vocalist Kody Norris and the Watauga Mountain Boys, Live on the Road, released in 2011. In the same period, he and guitarist Jack Hinshelwood did public school projects for the Virginia Foundation for the Arts. At last report, he and wife Nora Sue were quietly retired in Norton.

LP Cover - Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass - Billy Baker, fiddle - Arhoolie F 5006 - 1968
LP Cover - Billy Baker Wise County Special - Mountain and Grass - 5902 - 1980

LP Cover - Billy Baker Fiddle Classics Volume One - Old Homestead OHS 90100 - 1979
LP Cover - Billy Baker Fiddle Classics Volume Two - With The Bluegrass Kinsmen - Old Homestead OHS 90103 - 1979

Credits & Sources

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  239 A Baker's Hornpipe
  239 B I Could Change My Mind
  241 A Black Jack Davie
  241 B The Last Farewell
  262 A Cotton Eye Joe
  262 B Baker's Shuffle

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