This obituary is a contribution from C.P. Heaton, longtime Florida bluegrass musician.
Ken Fish, “Your Bluegrass Reporter” for the Jacksonville Florida Times Union from 1977 to 1999, died on February 7, 2023. He was 87 years of age.
He was a lifetime bluegrass lover. At age 11 he was a journalist for his elementary school paper. Fish studied journalism at Eastern Illinois University, and worked for the Mattoon, IL Journal-Gazette from 1963 to 1967. Once he heard the early performances of Red Cravens and the Bray Brothers in the Champaign-Urbana area, Ken became a passionate bluegrass fan.
Ken loved the old-time country music and bluegrass. Every room in his home, including two bathrooms, was wall-to-wall framed pictures of bluegrass and country pickers, plus some pics representing his other love: NASCAR and Formula One racing. He spent many years traveling to bluegrass festivals in Florida and south Georgia in his distinctive vehicle, “The Blue Velvet Van,” and reporting on the talent at the events. On many weekends he stayed up until the early morning hours picking his guitar and listening to the jam sessions around the campfires. Ken regularly attended the Wednesday bluegrass jams at Milton Smith’s Malabar Lounge, the home base of Mike Johnson and the Sounds of Bluegrass.
His period as “Your Bluegrass Reporter” was an active time for bluegrass in Jacksonville. In his column, Ken promoted acts that came to Jax including Don Reno, Ralph Stanley, John Hartford, The Osborne Brothers, Doc Watson, Bill Harrell and the Virginians, The Lewis Family, Red and Murphy, The Springer Brothers, Danny Taylor and Heart of Dixie, The Mildew Brothers, Lost and Found, Chubby Anthony, Chubby Wise, Curly Seckler and Willis Spears, Gamble Rogers, Paul Champion’s Florida Blue Grass Boys, and The Johnson Mountain Boys. Ken was proud that the Johnson Mountain Boys had performed both at his house (for his wedding), and at the White House. Most of these acts played at the University of North Florida in the afternoon and at the Malabar at night, an arrangement that made it possible for both venues to afford the more high-priced acts.
Ken had a ready wit. When Don Reno was performing at the Malabar, Ken sold tickets at the door. Don called an audience member of average talent (me) up to the stage to sing I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still with him. At that point Ken hollered to the crowd, “Refunds available at the door!”
R.I.P., Ken Fish.