About The Artist
Kenneth Clayton Baker spent the better part of his professional career as fiddler with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. But he had other achievements both before and afterwards including a sizable number of solo fiddle albums for County Records. A native of Jenkins, Kentucky in the heart of Appalachian coal country, Baker's fiddle work took him to such spots as Europe and Japan as well as festivals and many years on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Baker grew up in the coal mining camp of Jenkins picking up fiddle skills from both his father and grandfather. A local fiddler who also influenced his playing was Marion Sumner who played professionally at various times and he later admired Nashville-based Tommy Jackson. His first work into real professionalism came when he joined the band of rising star Don Gibson at WNOX Knoxville who eventually moved to Nashville and WSM's Grand Ole Opry.
In Music City, he first met Bill Monroe and did his initial session on Decca with him in December 1957 on a tune/song called "Sally Jo." A few months later, he twin-fiddled with Bobby Hicks on Monroe's original instrumental, "Scotland."
The late fifties tended to be tough times for traditional country musicians and Baker soon went back to Kentucky and the coal mines, although he seems to have sometimes fiddled with Monroe for short stints in the ensuing years. Then in 1967, he rejoined the Blue Grass Boys on a regular basis, although he left for short stints. In this period he fiddled on most of Monroe's Decca/MCA recording sessions which ultimately totaled about 200 masters.
Beginning in 1969, Baker began a solo recording career in his own name for County Records. A couple of years he had twin-fiddled on a County album with Joe Greene. But Portrait of a Blue-grass Fiddler (County 719), cut in July and released in December, started a trend. It proved to be County's best seller (except for a later one by WV Senator Robert Byrd).
A series of successful albums followed with the one on which Monroe himself played, Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe (County 761) in 1976, perhaps being the most notable. Kenny also did twin fiddle albums with such notables as Howard Forrester and Bobby Hicks also on County. Aside from that he did two albums with Josh Graves on which he played lead guitar.
Kenny Baker's tenure with Monroe came to a sudden end on October 12, 1984, when the two fell out on stage during a show in Alabama. Several years later they made up during Monroe's declining days, but except for a brief moment at that time never played or worked together again.
Kenny married Audrey Sizemore of Blackey, Kentucky in November 1946 in Pound, Virginia.
He returned to Kentucky, but often worked festivals with Josh Graves and a girl singer from Kentucky named Emma Smith. Increasingly in ill health in his later years, the legendary fiddler died a few weeks after his 85th birday.
Credits & Sources
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