J.D. Crowe to hang up his banjo

Another banjo milestone is about to be passed. The great J.D. Crowe has announced his intention to retire from performing at the end of 2012. He will turn 75 years old this summer.

Crowe is widely regarded as among the most influential bluegrass banjo players of the 20th century, with many placing him as second only to the dearly-departed Earl Scruggs. By most any standard, he is on everyone’s top 5 list, and is clearly one of the most imitated 5 stringers ever to don the thumb and two fingers.

His first break into the business was working with Jimmy Martin in the 1950s, before he turned 20 years of age. By 25, he had left Martin and from that point forward he pursued his own way in bluegrass, never again serving in the sideman role. Together with Red Allen and Doyle Lawson, Crowe formed The Kentucky Mountain Boys in the mid-’60s, but his lasting legacy is with the group that first hit it big in 1975, J.D. Crowe & the New South.

Just as Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys had once served as a training ground for aspiring bluegrass artists, Crowe’s New South nurtured the budding careers of such stellar performers as Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Keith Whitley, Gene Johnson, Don Rigsby, Ron Stewart and many others.

Crowe also filled the banjo spot in the Bluegrass Album Band in the 1980s, a superstar project that reunited him with Tony Rice and Doyle Lawson in one of the most memorable vocal trios in the history of our music, along with Bobby Hicks and Todd Phillips.

Doesn’t sound like J.D. has anything left to prove.

According to current New South mandolinist Dwight McCall, Crowe had long said that he wanted to go out while he was still playing well, and would know when it was time to hang it up. The New South will finish out all the remaining shows on their 2012 schedule – and any new ones that are booked – but at the end of the year, J.D. is off the road.

But it appears that the band will soldier on…

Rickey, Matt, Kyle and myself have decided to continue playing as a band, and will be auditioning banjo players in the coming months to start booking for next year. We will miss JD dearly but we all wanted to continue on as a band.

We will have a new recording finished soon and look forward to playing some material off of our solo projects as well as the new album.

So I guess this makes 2012 the J.D. Crowe Farewell Tour.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • Sean

    JD Crowe has always been one of my favorites! I’m glad I had the chance to see him play a few times. I wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.

  • Steve Bryant

    I’m proud to say I worked with J.D. for almost three years ( When Keith Whitley was the lead singer) and did three albums with him…. When he asked me to join The New South, He said : ” you don’t have to audition, I like what you do” He was familiar with my playing with another bluegrass band:-) and made me feel so comfortable and supported at a time when electric bass was still making inroads in Bluegrass…and J.D. has always been a first rate innovator while keeping tradition alive…and his timing, feel, and tone are incredible! He has a gift for putting together great bands and getting the best out of his musicians. We had a lot of laughs and I learned as I always have when you work with musicians of that caliber you experience what ”feel ”is about…. Even after all this time, as a full time session bassist in Nashville — when people are aware of my association all those years ago — the singers and musicians always have been in awe of J.D.’s playing. And believe me, they let me know…….I’ve also been doing bass tutoring via Skype to students across the country (bassmentoring.com).. and some of my students are really into Bluegrass and I’m asked to dust off a few basslines from the Hall of Fame album…..J.D.’s music crosses generational lines and he retires from the business leaving Bluegrass in a better place and for the inspiration that has given to so many……Thanks J,D. you are appreciated!

    Wishing you a wonderful 2012 and a blessed retirement,
    Your friend,
    Steve Bryant

  • Alan Tompkins

    I have to be honest here – I am beginning to not like 2012 at all. Especially not the past two weeks of it! Earl, now JD retiring? Say it isn’t so.

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  • Kyle Perkins

    This is Kyle, bass player with The New South. I am very thankful that I got to be a part of the final “New South” band. It has been truly the experience of a lifetime. The band wishes JD the best in his retirement, we hate to loose him, but it is his own decision to hang it up and we will all still be in contact with him throughout his retirement. The band IS pressing on & will be auditioning banjo players in the near future. Look for us to be showcasing the new band and new album at IBMA 2012, and start touring in 2013. Dwight and Rickey both have 2 solo projects of their own, which are outstanding! The new band will be performing lots of songs off both guy’s records, as well as keeping some New South material alive in the shows. We are still in the process of creating a good band name. We have a few names pinpointed, but havent decided on the right one. Be looking for our new band and new CD hopefully around October!!

  • Stephen Perry

    I was fortunate to see JD and the boys back in 2008 in Lewis Center, Ohio. What an awesome show it was. As much as I wish JD could play forever, I’m glad he’s decided to retire and pass the torch to the next generation. The man is a legend and his retirement is much deserved. I continue to listen to all of his work and I have to say, one of my most favorite albums is Lefty’s Old Guitar. The latest lineup of The New South is just perfect. I’m so glad to hear the boys will be continuing on as a band, because I love their music. Kyle, if you read this, please let us know what the band will be called as soon as you know. I’m looking forward to the new material. Getting back to JD… Thank you so much JD for the huge contribution you’ve made to bluegrass and the joy you’ve brought to my life and my father’s life (rest his soul). Best wishes for your retirement bud.