The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has announced that Bill Keith and Larry Sparks will be newest members to be inducted into the association's Hall of Fame. The induction will take place during the IBMA's annual Awards Show in Raleigh, North Carolina on October 1st, 2015. Both Keith and Sparks have left a permanent impression in the music we call Bluegrass. Both are also still active in the music and bring a long tradition of their respective styles as they helped shape the sound of today. While each are significantly different in their contributions, there is no denying that without them much of what we listen today would have been shaped differently.
Bill Keith is probably best known with the banjo instrument. Bill Keith tuners being just one piece of the puzzle. The tuners, widely accepted in their use today are, however, a minor contribution by Keith. Keith's greatest impact was his modern banjo style which became pronounced with the advent of Newgrass. His early Dixieland work is reflected in his melodic, chromatic Keith style today. Many a student still tries to follow the "Bill Keith Style" of picking.
Keith was exposed to and participated in a wide variety of styles during the 60s and 70s folk and bluegrass junction. The two music forms were frequently blended together and Keith was certainly right there in the middle with Earl Scruggs and Pete Seeger. The third name being Bill Keith. His familiarity with the bluegrass style of Earl Scruggs became firmly established when Earl Scruggs asked Keith to write the tablature for Scruggs' Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo. That volume has become the essential starting point for anybody wanting to learn the Scruggs Style of 3-finger picking.
As a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, Keith introduced the world to his melodic-chromatic style. During this part of his career, he was also notably the first member of Monroe's band that wasn't from the south. The banjo player from Boston brought a whole new sound to bluegrass. Keith and Scruggs are the two banjo players that helped define the bluegrass sound. Both had their unique styles named after them and both certainly helped make bluegrass music the genre that it is today.
Larry Sparks will also join the distinguished Hall of Fame which includes many of the names of the founders, legends and artists that have not only created the style but also have secured bluegrass as a style that has proven to endure the test of time. Sparks falls into the "legends" category and has been involved with bluegrass since his start with the Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys to today, where he fronts his own band, The Lonesome Ramblers.
Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, Larry Sparks has found his work on over 60 albums and has won numerous IBMA awards including Album of the Year, Recorded Event of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year twice. Like Keith, Sparks found his roots in the '60s. He replaced Carter Stanley with Ralph Stanley's band after Carter's passing. His lead guitar was a solid foundation with Ralph as they ventured out with Ralph's solo career.
After a while, Sparks began his own career with a great deal of professional, high exposure experience under his belt. It was during this era that he recorded "John Deere Tractor" which ultimately became his unofficial identity song. Over the years, he recorded many influential songs that became synonymous with his name. Today, Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers are a draw at any festival or concert they perform at. He hold tight to the roots of tradition while having the ability to stray off the beaten path. The ability to venture out yet remain true to the style is an important part of the Larry Sparks success story.
The Hall of Fame inductions will be one of the high points of the International Bluegrass Music Awards, which will take place Thursday, October 1 at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Memorial Hall in Raleigh, NC. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ibma.org. The IBMA Awards are part of a bigger event, the World of Bluegrass trade show, convention, awards show, showcases and music festival.