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.