“A fiddler’s fiddler whose playing has depth, nuance, and layers of subtlety along with fire. Only by giving one’s self completely and honestly to the music while taking great care to learn from the older players can this level of attunement to the legacy and living traditions of old-time music be realized.”
— Erynn Marshall
“One of the finest old-time musicians active today. His astonishing instrumental skill is always tempered with good taste, and his depth of knowledge and passion for the music lends a magical “old” quality to Kenny’s music.”
— Gail Gillespie, for the Old Time Herald
Kenny Jackson is a fiddler, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and tunesmith whose playing and singing is rooted in the rural music of the American South, especially the Appalachian region. Not content to simply re-enact the performances of the past, Kenny draws on the deep well of traditional music for his own spirited interpretations and the new tunes and songs that he writes.
Music was often a part of family gatherings at Kenny’s grandparents' Kentucky home, and as a six-year-old, he picked up a few tunes on the "French harp" from his uncle Homer. At twelve he learned to play guitar, and by the time he was twenty, he had added mandolin and banjo to his instrumental kit bag. During his college years and just after, Kenny found great inspiration in the music of artists like Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Doc Watson, John Hartford, and Norman Blake, and in the early 1980s Kenny could be found picking and singing in various bluegrass configurations in and around the musically fertile community of Bloomington, Indiana. It was there that he also became exposed to the world of old-time fiddle music, and he became hooked for life.
Around 1980, Kenny took up playing the fiddle and it became his signature instrument. One of his early fiddling influences was the Surry County, North Carolina elder master Tommy Jarrell. Kenny recalls one recording in particular, Jarrell's solo fiddle record Sail Away Ladies, "I was completely transported by Jarrell's fiddling on that record. It gave me chill bumps...it seemed the most ancient yet most immediate and living music I could ever want to hear." Sadly, Jarrell died just weeks before Kenny would have had a chance to meet him, but what he learned about old-time music during those years through time spent with other musical elders like Melvin Wine (WV), Rafe Brady (NC), Bertie Dickens (NC), Lee Stoneking (MO), Violet Hensley (AR), and others greatly influenced Kenny’s musical sensibility and style.
Over the years Kenny has also drawn from a wealth of archival and field recordings of Upper South fiddlers like John Salyer, William Stepp, Marcus Martin, and Ed Haley, to name a few. With these influences, and with countless hours of playing in informal sessions just for the love of the music, he developed his playing, rooted deep in tradition, but uniquely his own.
Since the early 1980s, Kenny has been a part of several outstanding string bands including Leftwich, Higginbotham, and Jackson; The Rhythm Rats (with Paula Bradley and Whitt Mead), Big Medicine (with Joe Newberry, Jim Collier, LaNelle Davis, and Bobb Head), and the Bow Benders (with Erynn Marshall, Carl Jones, and Bobb Head). Kenny has appeared at numerous festivals including MerleFest, the Ulster-American Folk Park in Northern Ireland, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Wheatland Music Festival, and the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (Clifftop), where both his bands The Rhythm Rats and Big Medicine were winners of the prestigious Traditional Band contest. He’s also appeared on broadcasts such as A Prairie Home Companion, ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, BBC-Belfast Radio, and WPAQ’s venerable Merry-Go-Round, among others. Add that to the many concerts, dances, and dodgy dives where he’s played, and you get a picture of a seasoned performer.
Through his teaching over many years, Kenny has had an influence on emerging old-time musicians around the country. He’s taught many students in private lessons, as well as attendees at workshops and music camps, including Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops, Mars Hill Blue Ridge Music Week, Alaska Fiddle Camp, Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp, and The Swannanoa Gathering.
Kenny can be heard on a number of recordings, including his “solo” albums The Shortest Day (2015) and Over the Mountain (2004); on the Big Medicine recordings Pine to Pine (2008), Fever in the South (2004) and Too Old to be Controlled (2002); and with the Rhythm Rats on I Believe I’ll Go Back Home (1997), and Pretty Crowing Chicken (1994).